Sunday, January 10, 2010

Hangin' With The Cosbys-Ninja Style

Every once in a while, you run across one of those movies that really make you stop and think, "What the hell was THAT all about?" Not that you don't follow the story or that the movie itself makes no sense; you just cannot quite put your finger on why it was made or what the filmmakers were trying to do. A prime example of this kind of film is Blood Freak, which has been called a Christian, anti-drug gore/monster movie, among other things. You have no idea if the filmmakers were dead serious about some of it, all of it or none of it, and if it was a comedy in disguise, the filmmakers played it so straight that the joke is truly on all of us who have seen it.

The film this time around is almost the same type of thing, but to a far lesser degree. Nothing can be as weird as Blood Freak. Our film today is The Black Ninja. And we are not talking the other weird movie with the same name that had Chris Kelly with badly-spliced together footage from an old martial arts film and a more modern film that had ninjas who looked like Power Rangers. Nor is it the OTHER film called by the same name that came out in the early 80s.

Our version of The Black Ninja stars Clayton Prince, whom you may know from many classic roles in The Cosby Show, Hanging With The Homeboys or as "Seaweed" in the original Hairspray. He plays criminal defense attorney Malik Ali, one of the most sought-after lawyers in the Philadelphia area as he can get any criminal off no matter how guilty the scumbag is. But do we get introduced to him right off the bat? Oh hell no! We get to see three street thugs threaten the safety of some utterly generic, and apparently incredibly STUPID, woman who wanders into a section of town I wouldn't enter in broad daylight with enough weaponry to make Rambo green with envy. As they offer to help themselves to her ample sexual charms, some douche bag in a black outfit shows up and ruins what could have been a very interesting opening to a rough porn film. He kicks, slaps and boot-plants these jokers like they have no idea how to defend themselves. They scurry away to an abandoned building and think they are safe. Our "hero" then takes an obviously illegal explosive device (a concussion grenade from the look of it) and tosses it into the building where the rambunctious fellows ran. They escape in time to avoid seeing an obviously cheap mock up of building (which looks little like the real building) explode. Not only is the fellow in black a bully, but he is also a terrorist.

We then are whipped to some of the most laughably bad opening credit animations ever created. Not THE worst, but, as you can see from the included screen shots, this film is basically telling you they spent their budget on these bad animations and that this film is a comic book, at best. Already we are being told what to think. Not only do we have no confidence in the filmmakers and find the guy in black to be a spoilsport, but now they try to control how we should look at this film. I'm already finding myself not happy about this turn of events.

Moving from Cartoon Cheesefest 2003, we find ourselves watching a crime being committed, with a sneaky man stealing keys, shutting down lights and ultimately assaulting a poor single woman in her home. Wait. I remember reading this was a comedy. So...rape is comic fodder? I must remember this for my stand-up career when I do a show for the women at Vassar; they'll be ROLLING in the aisles.

Yet ANOTHER transition to a courtroom where we finally meet dapper Malik Ali. Behind the final credit of the opening credits. The one that reads, "Written & Directed by ME". I'm NOT kidding. The image you are seeing has not been Photoshopped. An amazing display of hubris, overweening pride, with many thanks to both Strangers With Candy and former New York mayor, Harold Washington. Then the attorney proceeds to trash his client's intelligence to achieve a victory that only Matlock could envy. Okay, so we have a comedy...maybe.

On to what has to be one of the best scenes in the movie. A lovely Asian reporter is commenting on the events of the courtroom and interviews Ali and Pooky, his client, as they exit the courthouse. Pooky, when asked his opinion, says, "Damn, girl, you fine. You got any black in you? You want some?" Okay, we have a comedy.


For the next few minutes, we bounce back and forth from the film showing us political commentary to romantic hints to more action as the Black Ninja does his glorious moves in a lovely repetition of three times, which you saw in the opening scene and you had better get used to it. Apparently the filmmakers read Twain and his belief that nothing sticks in the mind unless it is repeated 3 times. I don't think he meant 3 times in succession, but what the hell, right?

Are we even close to the real story? Do we have a hint? Where is the stank of the story?

Here it is. We get the back story of Malik as he talks to his new obvious love interest, Dr. Tracey Allen, whom he has saved from attacks before. Now, as a client, he bares his exposition as he explains how he defended Shinji Hagiwara, an obvious psychotic killer, and how he stole all of Hagiwara's money to defend the nutcase. Shinji does not take kindly to this and slaughters the good lawyer's family in return. We see images of the slaughtered family and of Shinji writing a message in the son's blood on a mirror. Eh, comedy...anyone,!

The obviously disturbed psychologist (what kind of patients does she deal with?) stops the interview and sends Malik on his way. Within minutes, she is harassed by armed thugs sent by Tony Fanelli, who killed a cop and the good doctor happened to be a witness, although you would be hard pressed to find her in the flashbacks, but who am I to doubt anybody? Still, the good doctor, who seems more tightly wrapped than a generic tampon, just happens to have a print of the Marx Brothers on her office wall. Hmmmm. Are we to believe she has a comedic side we aren't seeing, or are the filmmakers just flailing about to find some decoration? Don't look for subtext. This film isn't that deep.

The Black Ninja jumps to her rescue...again. So much for strong female characters in this film, huh? Our hero (okay, do I really need to maintain an aura of secrecy over who The Black Ninja really is?) goes after the lead assassin Mr. Fanelli uses. With a few well-placed punches, the gunslinger coughs up his boss and his address. Meanwhile, the good therapist is arrested for the murder of the assassin's sidekicks, and she immediately calls Malik Ali. Not sure, but isn't this a conflict of interest? Oh, wait, this is a movie and reality has no place here.

Next we get some happy bonding with the female doctor and the sleazy lawyer. But he has a heart of gold. Oh, wait, he is...but the good doctor doesn't know, so we won't say anything yet. And we get to see a bit of rather obvious over-dubbing as we meet Pooky again as he is being locked in a cell with a massive cross-dressing sex freak called Frenchy. Despite the subject matter of the movie, the filmmakers decided it was important not to do anything that would net them anything worse than a PG rating. A marketing ploy no doubt, but it isn't like it got them anywhere as I don't think this has received airplay beyond a few UHF and alternative digital channels.

Where the hell is all of this going? I don't know and I've seen it twice now. Okay, quick trip through more plot developments to get to more fun stuff.

Malik/Black Ninja keeps psychologist locked up to protect her. Finally gives in and bails her out. He saves her again. She realizes Malik is The Black Ninja (slow, girlfriend, very slow). Ninja Boy goes out to find out more about the plans to kill the good doctor while telling her to stay in his secret hideout. She leaves hideout and the Red Ninja kidnaps her.

Thank God for The Red Ninja. This movie was going nowhere until he shows up and proceeds to gnaw scenery like a starved rat. His over-the-top performance actually makes you believe this film MIGHT be a comedy. Or is he just overacting? Still, his bug-eyed looks and smarmy expressions make this role one of the best for the entire film. And the actor, one Yuki Matsuzaki, has gone on to better things, unlike most of the rest of the cast. Check out the two lovely screen caps shown here.

So, his treatment of The Black Ninja's new love interest provides motivation for the rest of the movie. This includes a ridiculous bit of padding about a diamond theft that does nothing for the story.

Do I need to hold your hand to make it clear how this movie plays out? I'm not gonna give it away, but, really, do you need me to paint a picture? I will tell you that there is one interrogation on a toilet seat that fans of bathroom/fart humor will find so wonderful that they may need to visit the toilet themselves. Honestly, you have to see it to believe it.

Ultimately, the question is this: What the hell IS The Black Ninja? I have no idea. Is it boring? Heck no. Is it worth watching? Definitely. You will be tossed from side to side, from serious action flick to comedy to social commentary, and the damned thing never sticks to one and it never seems to know what it is in the end. But it DOES entertain, even if on the level of "How stupid can they get with this next scene?" Even on that level, you will not be disappointed.

Biggest overall complaint is that it appears they took a movie shot on 35mm film and gave it an awful transfer over to a video print for easier distribution. The thing just looks plain ugly and grainy. But then, given the movie does not seem to have any sense of what it it, MAYBE they shot it so it would look so ugly. Nah, they couldn't be that crafty.

Now, for the downside. If you go to the trouble of buying this film, which it is worthy of if you can score it for less that 6 bucks, you may be tempted to watch the "making of" featurette on the disc. Do so ONLY after watching the film at least once. I will not go into detail, but I will say that the "making of" film is actually better in many ways than the actual film and may just have you feeling a touch awkward for laughing AT the film instead of laughing WITH the film.

But don't listen to it. Even though it isn't as utterly stupid as the Chris Kelly Black Ninja, this is seriously dopey movie that deserves an audience that with laugh both at and with it.


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