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  American Ninja The Skills For Thrills
Year: 1985
Director: Sam Firstenberg
Stars: Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, Judie Aronson, Guich Koock, John Fujioka, Don Stewart, John LaMotta, Tadashi Yamashita, Phillip Brock, Tony Carreon, Roi Vinzon, Manoley Escudero, Greg Rocero, Berto Spoor, Michael Hackbart, Jerry Bailey
Genre: Action, Thriller, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 2 votes)
Review: Joe Armstrong (Michael Dudikoff) is a soldier on an American Army base in the Philippines, but he doesn't make much of an effort to mix with his fellow recruits, something which rankles with them. When he is driving part of a convoy out on the country roads their way is impeded by a large vehicle parked across their path, and as they stop a group of rebels leap from the jungle and orders everyone out. Joe reluctantly goes along with this, but the Colonel's daughter Patricia (Judie Aronson) makes an escape attempt when her chauffeur is incapacitated; alas, she is forced to crash the car which then has a tree fall on it, foiling her. On the other hand, there's always Joe, taking advantage of this diversion to start beating up the guerillas and fleeing into the forest with Patricia when the ninjas arrive...

The Cannon Group became known in the eighties for their insistence on making action flicks, as producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus knew this was what was making their studio the most profits, so by the point American Ninja was released, they had a formula going for those which they would adhere to until the company inevitably went bankrupt a few years afterwards. Never mind your Chuck Norris or Charles Bronson vehicles, Cannon's most typical action effort may well have been this, for it was tailor made for what they hoped would be a new star, one Michael Dudikoff who was presented as every bit the equal of all those other tough guys on their roster: certainly his way with dodging hails of bullets was undeniable.

Whether he was adept at the combat or not was a moot point debated to this day, though it was accurate enough to say he learned on the job when he was cast in this, not being a martial artist who had been in training for years, indeed, it was his co-star Steve James as Corporal Jackson who really should have taken the American Ninja role since he was plainly the better fighter. James was the perennial sidekick in efforts such as these, often overshadowing the leading man and certainly more charismatic than Dudikoff ever was - it must be considered a missed opportunity that he never secured the lead roles he deserved before his untimely death. But Dudikoff filled the role of the taciturn rebel well enough, largely because he wasn't required to do very much with it.

Indeed, he has hardly any lines, leaving the lion's share of the dialogue to his co-stars as if Cannon were not entirely convinced of the talents of their latest celebrity, though they were pleased enough with the box office returns here to recast him in sequels and similar movies, either that or they were insisting audiences should take to him in the same way they were keen on Norris, Bronson and their biggest signing, Sylvester Stallone. These days the bloodless, television episode-style violence featured here is not exactly visceral, leaving this like many of its ilk reliant on the sheer volume of bullets, explosions, swordfights and fisticuffs to bully the viewer into submission that yes, OK, they were getting enough bang for their buck, no matter how anaemic much of it appeared.

Once we have established Armstrong's badass credentials, which include amnesia to forget he was brought up in the jungle by authentic ninja John Fujioka until an explosion spoiled all (always the explosions, huh?), and that Jackson realises he's an all right guy when he bests him in combat surrounded by the other soldiers, we have the problem of what to do with him, so just as John Rambo was the only true American worth his salt in the recent Rambo: First Blood Part II, Armstrong follows suit by crusading against the top brass on the base who are committing nefarious acts of gun smuggling, Patricia's dad as well, though she doesn't know that. These double crossers have to be made to see the errror of their ways, of course, and what better method than murdering them and their black-clad, ninja cohorts, who number a "black star" ninja (Tadashi Yamashita) among them, a surprising figure for the finale when he unleashes cunningly concealed flame thrower, machine gun and laser beams from his person. Just about ludicrous enough to pass the time. Music by Michael Linn (that trumpet!).
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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