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I'm a longtime contributor to MTV, Billboard, Alternative Press and MovieWeb. I've worked as on-air reporter, host, writer and producer for MTV, MSNBC and E!. I have provided opinion and commentary to programs on VH1, IFC, G4, Fuse, Current and Oxygen. I have written for Huffington Post, Premiere, OC Weekly, SFGate.com, NextMovie.com, MTV's television and movie blogs and other publications. I am the founder of Superhero Productions, providing broadcast, online and aftermarket content for a number of clients including Lionsgate, Sony and Warner Bros. I personally handle artist management for a handful of bands. "Ryan Downey has established a history of breaking some good scoops in the last few years, and you could certainly do worse than bookmark [him] to check in on." -- Ain't It Cool

Friday, December 04, 2009

Movie Review: "Ninja Assassin"

I participated in the on-air review of "Ninja Assassin" for the Rotten Tomatoes Show on Current. The long-form / written version of my review appears below.

Directed By:
James McTeigue
Starring: Rain, Naomie Harris
1 Star

Not since 1991 and Vanilla Ice's "Ninja Rap" has there been such a bad year for ninjas.

First, there were the pointless (he doesn't talk!) and ridiculous "Batman and Robin" style sculpted lips on Snakes Eyes in the atrocious and insulting "GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra" (which was still better than the Transformers movies, but I digress), to say nothing of Storm Shadow's love of tailored suits. And now there's "Ninja Assassin," a movie that manages to make its assassinations cartoonishly gory and its ninjas duller than a plastic sword.

Lest you think I'm being snooty, I'll happily admit that "Rapid Fire" is one of my favorite action movies of all time despite its cartoonish implausibility. I love a good martial arts flick, but a good martial arts flick this is not.

Between "Old Dogs" and "Ninja Assassin," the studios certainly served up some turkey for Thanksgiving. Sorry, I was dying to use that joke (and I'm a vegetarian!). And speaking of dying, there is plenty of that in "Ninja Assassin," but only one or two jokes. This senseless, useless, fantastically boring movie is devoid of humor of either the intended or unintended variety.

Which isn't to say it's serious, because it certainly isn't. It's the kind of movie where people say, "I want the international task force mobilized and ready to go in five minutes!" and "I need a medic, now!" but it doesn't matter because you don't care about anything that's happening.

The movie stars a Korean pop-star named Rain. I'll let you think about that for a second. He's in incredible shape, he's got some natural charisma, but I hope his albums are better than this movie. And I hope next time, somebody gives him a script that makes some sense and lets him do something besides sulk, scream, eat, workout and fight. Because, who knows? Maybe he's a good actor. This film certainly gives no real indication as to whether or not he's talented and that's a shame.

The ninjas in this movie are bad guys and Rain is a ninja with a heart of gold who breaks away from the clan after his first kill (yet inexplicably is a better killer than any of them, even their leaders) after his somewhat girlfriend is killed by them for going AWOL from their school.

Naomi Harris is investigating ninjas. I think she's some kind of law enforcement person, which makes her inevitable damsel in distress bit pretty confusing.

The movie goes to great lengths to establish how supernaturally unstoppable the ninjas are only to undo all of its own "logic" in the third act by having the ninja clan defeated, on their home turf no less, by the same types of forces they had no problem dealing with for the previous hour.

It's also worth noting that these ninjas whisper really loudly every time they are about to do something sinister. People like to use "ninja" as a verb these days, as in "I ninja'd my way back into the house to get my keys, so the dog wouldn't bark." Loud whispering is not ninja.

And why is it that in movies like this, one special guy can always fight off dozens of people who were trained exactly like him by exactly the same person or people? I guess it's the nature vs. nurture debate. Hmm. Perhaps "Ninja Assassin" is more philosophical than I realized.

J. Michael Straczynksi shares a screenwriting credit here. Comic nerds like me will recognize his name from his work for Marvel and DC. But it's important to note that he also wrote episodes of "He-Man," "She-Ra" and the abysmal "Ghostbusters" weekly cartoon. And that's a great indication of the style of "writing" on display here.

Supposedly there's little to no wirework in this movie and less CG than we've been used to. Unfortunately, every fight scene is so dark, choppy and poorly edited, that if there's some killer stunt people doing some real work, we'd never know.

"Ninja Assassin" was directed by Wachowski Bros. (they of the intense wire-work) protege James McTeigue. And the big takeaway here is that it may be time we all accept that the Wachowskis (who produced) might have been one hit wonders. "The Matrix" was incredible, there's no denying it. But the sequels were overwrought and awful and everything else they've had their hands in - from "Speed Racer" to the barely passable (and supposedly directed by McTeigue but "saved" by the Wachowskis) adaptation of "V For Vendetta" -- has failed to deliver on their early promise. I think they need to get in the game and remind us why we fell in love with them, before it's too late.

I'll take Michael Dudikoff in "American Ninja" over this any day. In fact, I think I may need to add that to my Netflix queue.

Ninjas deserve better than "Ninja Assassin"... And so do we.

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