At the sum of its parts, James McTeigue’s “Ninja Assassin” is a catastrophe of a film, void of logic and any type of structure and polish needed to put it in a league of its own. However, as far as cheesy action romps go, the film is hilarious, bloody and at times, unpredictable. For this, there will be a certain demographic that appreciate it. However, most will be appalled at the overall lack of intelligence the film has and will laugh their way through the 99-minute running time.
While “Ninja Assassin” has the right pieces in place to strive in the genre, it ends up falling flat on its own face. An interesting and brooding main character in Raizo, [played by Rain, “Speed Racer.”], good-looking supporting actresses in Naomie Harris and Anna Sawai and a methodical and extra evil villain in the legendary Shô Kosugi should have been enough to deliver a quality beat-em-up, but somewhere along the line, something just doesn’t “pop.”
As a result, in spite of these positive elements, the film never rises up the way you’d expect.
With the screenplay written by comic-book writing legend J. Michael Straczynski, you’d naturally expect solid story-telling, but what you get is a plot that even a hardcore comic book fan would scoff at.
Aside from all the killing and Harris’ intrigue at discovering the truth behind a series of assassinations she believes a legendary ninja group is behind, “Ninja Assassin” is a story that revolves around Raizo’s love for the fallen Kiriko [played by Sawai] and the hunger he has to kill those responsible for her death, mainly his former sensei.
It’s far from fodder, but ultimately the story doesn’t have the speed and poise needed to knock an audience out.
Sure, Raizo has his trials and tribulations throughout and you understand his methods, but the ending of the film doesn’t provide the type of clarity you’d expect from a cinema offering of this type. By the end, Rain uses a kind of “Ima,” an ability the Samurai and Ninja often use to block out pain, focus their minds and destroy their enemies, to achieve his goals, but he’s not a changed man. Instead, he’s alone with nothing left to live for. Not exactly the tale of a focused warrior. Because of this, it’s hard to appreciate the film as a whole for its story alone.
The same thing goes for the concept of the ninja shadow warriors, who are infinitely deadly at first, killing everything in their path. Later on in the film however, they fall down faster than an old lady that wins the lottery and can’t hit the broad side of a barn with the same ninja stars they threw with deadly accuracy early on. Such a lack of logic usually runs rampant in low-budget ninja movies, but this film deserved much better.
Not helping matters either is the fact that the script itself is lackluster. Rain has the same type of silent, but charismatic and deadly appeal actors like Jet Li and Jason Stratham have, but doesn’t have the acting chops they do. As a result, many of the fighting scenes are visceral and he’s certainly an imposing force, but every time he speaks, you can’t help but chuckle a little bit.
Even though Harris, Sawai and Kosugi are a step above him in terms of their thespian skills, the script is too corny to be taken even remotely seriously, creating a laughable film that never challenges the audience.
Nonetheless, the fighting scenes are brutal enough to satisfy any old-school ninja movie fanatics’ wildest dreams. Intense, bloody, and well choreographed, they are without a doubt the saving grace of the film. Seeing the final fight between Rain and and Sawai in a burning building, with flying embers cascading with shadows, blood and sweat encompassing our view is enough to put a smile on anyone’s face. However, even this scene is somewhat tarnished. At certain times, it’s obvious that Sawai has been replaced with a Caucasian stunt-double, who is easily half his age.
In the immortal words of Robert De Niro: “Not Good.”
The same thing goes for Rain, who is replaced by another double at other stages of the film and that double, too, is easily recognizable as a white dude with long black hair.
Often times as well, the fighting scenes are filled with unnecessary blood, and annoying sound effects, taking away from the realism and awe-inducing elements they have at the same time and combine to create a conundrum of a film that you’ll end up liking for all the wrong reasons.
“Ninja Assassin” had potential, a plethora of it, but shoddy production, a script that takes away from its performers and a lack of common sense end up hitting it right between the eyes with a Shuriken.
And unlike the myriad of ninja henchmen in the film, this one doesn’t miss.