First Look Pictures // 2009 // 92 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // March 22nd, 2010
A silent warrior. A lethal mission.
First Look studios opts to get into the ninja entertainment market with this offering, a beat'em up that lacks the style of its contemporary, Ninja Assassin, but may still offer value to someone hard-up for dudes in black one-pieces throwing shuriken at each other's general vicinity.
In a ninja dojo somewhere far away, two rivals, American-born Casey (Scott Adkins) and Japanese native Masazuka (Tsuypshi Ihara) vie for the attention and blessing of their ninjitsu master. When Masazuka disgraces himself, the master places a legendary katana into the care of Casey, ordering him to protect it from the rogue ninja.
Casey heads to New York to babysit the magical artifact and meets up with a lovely sidekick. And he's going to need the help, because Masazuka is on the prowl and he's not one to be trifled with, master swordsman that he is and wearer of the bodacious Ninja Gaiden cosplay outfit.
Expectations were nil for this going in (the chintzy title sequence didn't help matters much), but I was surprised by the amount of action Ninja tossed my way. There is indeed much ninja-ness to go around and the fight scenes are well-choreographed, well-executed and copious. I'm not familiar with either Scott Adkins or Tsuyoshi Ihara, but the guys have moves. Well, maybe not Ihara, because much of his character's bad-assery was done while masked, but I'll slide him the benefit of the doubt. Adkins does most of the heavy-lifting anyway, whether he's throttling scumbags on a subway train or squaring off one-on-one against his arch-nemesis. He's a skilled martial artist and impresses throughout with a worthwhile physical performance.
It's when he's asked to do anything else, like read a line or summon up an emotion that isn't "concern" or "preparing to kick someone in the solar plexus," that's when things get dicey. As an actor who's tasked with supplying a character that we should care about, Adkins is a stiff. As a human special effect, the man delivers.
In fact, the whole story is lacks a pulse. It's your clichéd grudge match fable, the super-awesome magic katana the motivation for these guys to pound on each other. Needless to say, once the secret of the katana is revealed, it's not as super-awesome and magical as hoped, but it fits in well with the required happy ending that sadly replaces what would have been a more interesting and darker climax. Alas, there's nothing original coursing through the bloodstream of Ninja, so we'll just have to take what we can get, namely, a genuinely entertaining series of wire-free, martial arts bouts. If that scratches an itch -- or you're just interested in supporting the ninja movie genre, which is a noble cause by the way -- consider scoping out this disc's wares.
The Blu-ray disc is bare bones (ugh, I guess I would eventually utter that phrase), the technical aspects holding down the fort in lieu of a single extra. Picture quality is clean, the 2.35:1 widescreen transfer living up to the high-def standard. Resolution is sharp throughout and the color levels are robust, giving the fight scenes some nice visual pop. The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio mix services the mayhem well, rendering the effects-laden action moments with precision and pumping out the immediately forgettable generic score well enough.
Ninja isn't very good, but there is a buttload of ninja action. For what it's worth.
Guilty of hurting my head with sub-par acting and story, but as far as being
boring? Not guilty!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Look Pictures
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R