Let’s take a look at American Ninja by Cannon Films. Ninjas were everywhere in the 80s and The Cannon Company is partially responsible for this. Filmmaking cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus had a thing about ninjas, with movies like Enter the Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja, and Ninja III: The Domination. American Ninja could be seen as the fourth of the Ninja series and starts Michael Dudikoff, who would star in a number of Cannon Films during the mid to late 80s.
We are immediately introduced to our hero, Joe Armstrong (that name is love), when our movie opens. He’s a loner and we can tell he’s a loner because he’s standing by his lonesome and flipping around a butterfly knife. He doesn’t want to play the reindeer games of his fellow soldiers like hackey sack. Oh, Joe’s a US soldier, BTW. And this movie is set in the Philippines. There’s one particular military dude whose name is Charlie, who will become important later. He gives Joe attitude when our hero doesn’t return the hackey sack.
I have said that camp is partially about finding the feminine in the masculine. Well, Michael Dudikoff in American Ninja is a very pretty man.
So, right there is a huge plus in the movie’s corner.
Joe is part of a convoy that is filled with supplies and is also escorting the colonel’s daughter to somewhere. Also on this convoy is a Sgt. Rinaldo, who will also become important later. The convoy is set upon by guerrillas disguised road workers. The guerrillas order the soldiers to strip; Charlie gets his head smashed through a car window. He’s OK, though. The colonel’s daughter, whose name is Patricia, drives the lead car away but doesn’t get far and is run off the road due to poor road conditions and not being able to drive. The little “shit” she gives in frustration on getting out is hysterical. Her actions, however, do provide the distraction needed for Joe to fight back. He attacks with kicks and throwing pipes and all sorts of stuff. This also makes the other soldiers fight back. Everyone is punchin’ and kickin’ and wrasslin’ now. Joe gets one of the soldiers into the supply trucks and tells him (in a somewhat high pitched voice) to drive off but one of the guerrillas follows in the munitions truck. However, Joe is able to get this truck off the road with the use of a chain and hook. It drives off the road and explodes. At this point ninjas show up with trombones as part of their leitmotif. They kill the soldiers and almost kill Patricia but Joe saves her by deflecting the ninjas arrows. Joe and Patricia run into the jungle and the main ninja orders his other ninjas to track Joe down and kill him. He then demands to know from Rinaldo who he is but the sergeant doesn’t know anything. “He possessed great skills” says the main ninja. Or rather, he says “gweat skillwes”. Yeah, I’m horrible for pointing out a speech impediment and it’s going to bite me hard on the ass one day.
In the jungle, Joe and Patricia, who is shrilly complaining the whole way, evade the ninjas. I find Patricia legitimately funny in this scene as she freaks over Joe breaking the heels off her shoes and her annoyance over him slitting her skirt so she’ll run faster. Joe and Patricia have to jump into the river to avoid the ninjas, which our damsel is very reluctant to do. They stay underwater until the ninjas pass again. Back at the convoy, the main ninja orders the guerrillas to escape with what remains of the trucks. Joe and Patricia make it to the opposite shore and it’s here that we hear him say in the sweetest voice: “Are you OK?”
Things get a little flirty between the two after Joe suggests they hang their clothes up to dry. It’s here we get the shirtless glory that is Michael Dudikoff:
Again, camp is about finding the feminine within the masculine, especially beauty. And this is beautiful to me and should be enjoyed by many a people. And there is is something very James Dean-esque about Joe that is very appealing. Yes, Joe Armstrong is a Byronic hero, I’m going on record.
The bodies of the slain soldiers are brought back to base and the colonel order the jungle searched for guerrillas. Turns out this has been the third time one of military convoys has been hit. However, no one has ever died until now. Rinaldo is quick to blame Joe. The Colonel calls over Corporal Curtis Jackson (love that name) for info on how the soldiers died and he explains that they were killed via ninja arts.
The main ninja meets with his boss, illegal arms dealer Victor Ortega. Though pleased with the haul from this hijacking, he is displeased that the most important cargo has gotten away. We don’t know what that most important cargo is. When the main ninja makes mention of an American ninja (title drop, yay), Victor Ortega does not believe it. Regardless, he orders the main ninja to kill him.
Joe and Patricia are able to make it back to the colonel’s home in a rickety fruit truck. God, I love this movie. More flirtiness occurs and Patricia kisses Joe. Dawww. Joe heads back to base, where is gets put through the ringer by the colonel. It’s here we learn that everything about Joe Armstrong is unknown and he has total amnesia and that he was in reform school for almost killing a man. And his joining the army was more or less court ordered. Joe gets harassed by Charlie, Curtis, and other soldiers who aren’t happy that their friends died because of him. It’s here that Joe remembers some of his past, and how he started training in the art of the ninja at a young age.
Victor Ortega meets with a few customers and shows off his grand compound. He introduces them to the compound’s gardener, Shinyuki, who looks very familiar. Ortega says he found Shinyuki in the jungle wearing the uniform of a Japanese soldier, much like the one the man in the flashback was wearing. *Gasp* You don’t think-!? Anyway, Ortega then shows the customers his ninja training camp and the main ninja, who we learn is called Black Star Ninja. Just that, Black Star Ninja. No ‘the’ at the beginning.
At the base, Jackson antagonizes Joe into fight. He even made an jerk ass remark about “leaving glory boys” back in Vietnam. Kick his ass, Joe! Kick his ass hard! And he does.
It’s only after this that Joe is accepted again but all the other soldiers. Well, not all. Rinaldo still gives Joe crap and orders him to trash duty. Jackson and Joe bond. Joe is more comfortable in revealing that has total amnesia to Jackson, probably because spar they had. Jackson goes on about making money off of what Joe can do, but Joe refuses, saying that he doesn’t need money. It’s when Joe sees Patricia that Jackson says he understands what Joe needs, teasing him about having a crush on her; Patricia tries to convince Charlie to do something for her.
Later, we get some glorious shirtless Curtis Jackson:
Anyway, circumstances happen that involve Charlie and Jackson getting Joe off base; Joe is super dashing in his dress uniform:
Joe escapes the base by jumping the motorcyle over the wall. Yes, it’s obviously a stunt man and it looked like that stunt hurt. Anyway, Joe goes to deliver the message to the girl and finds it to be Patricia. The note is actually from her to Joe “Have a Nice Time. Got ya!” Awww, that’s so sweet. Patricia and Joe ride around on the motocycle and go to a restaurant. Unbeknownst to the two, Rinaldo is having dinner with Ortega! Shock! Rinaldo is in on the illegal weapons trade and the convoy attacks. Oooo, evil man! Rinaldo is about to go arrest him when Ortega stops him. Just then, Joe and Patricia notice Rinaldo and Ortega. Awkward. However, Patricia laughs it off, saying that Ortega is the owner of a plantation on the island and that her father really likes him. Ortega wants Joe dead but Rinaldo warns that that could jeopardize their plans. However, Ortega wants Rinaldo to go through with it anyway and he knows exactly how he’s going to do it. We don’t, of course.
Joe and Patricia go to her father’s place. There’s a slight blooper of Michael Dudikoff stumbling slightly trying to get off of the motorcycle, which makes Patricia’s actress laugh and it is adorable and I love Michael Dudikoff now. Patricia and Joe share a kiss.
The next day, Rinaldo confront Charlie and Joe about their little escapade. Rinaldo orders Joe to the motor pool, where he’s assigned to drive a truck down to the portside dock. It’s here that Joe is attacked by ninjas. He makes short work of them. While this is going on, the guerrillas from before steal the truck. Joe steals a motorcycle from one of the guerrillas and pursues. The guerrilla in the truck tries to kill Joe by running him over but only succeeds in destroying the motorcycle. Joe is able to hang on to the underside of the truck all the way to Ortega’s compound. Ortega is pleased with the acquisition of what he’s been wanting this whole movie – a high end missile launcher. At least, I think that’s what it is. Joe gets caught but fights his way out of the compound with the help of Shinyuki, whom Joe doesn’t recognize. Ortega calls Rinaldo and tells him that Joe escaped the trap and knows now about the illegal arms dealing. Rinaldo tells Ortega that he’ll take care of it and he does – he has Joe arrested and placed in the brig. Curtis finds out that Joe is being charged with the theft of the military equipment. He confronts Rinaldo, who smugly brushes him off. Jackson meets with Patricia and explains what’s going on. They try to explain things to the colonel, but the colonel wants to hear none of it. That night, Black Star Ninja infiltrates the brig in an attempt to kill Joe. Circumstances happen that make it look like Joe killed three MPs in an escape attempt. So, now Joe was triple murder added to his list of charges. Black Star Ninja gets away while Joe escapes with the help of Curtis.
Joe and Curtis meet with Patricia, who convinces our hero to speak with her father. The colonel says he’ll launch a full scale investigation into their claims about Rinaldo and Ortega and orders MPs to his mansion. They do…and he orders Joe arrested. The colonel then lets slip that Joe already was convicted of manslaughter. Joe makes a break for it and gets away in one of the MP jeeps. Rinaldo tries shooting at Joe and it’s shocks me how he’s able to miss given Joe’s jeep and Rinaldo’s are practically bumper to bumper. Rinaldo tosses the MP he’s with out of the jeep and tries running Joe off the road. But, Joe gets the upper hand and maneuvers Rinaldo’s jeep off road, which lightly hits a little tree and explodes and I am delighted.
Ortega meets with the colonel. Turns out he’s in on the illegal arms deal, too. I love how there’s all this cowboy memorabilia all over the colonel’s home. Just an observation. Anyway, Black Star Ninja kidnaps Patricia and Ortega uses her as a hostage.
Joe has made his way back to Ortega’s compound. There, Shinyuki brings him to his quarters and helps him remember his past, on how he was six and orphaned and Shinyuki raised him as his own and trained him to be an honorable ninja. But, then some demolitions team began dynamiting the jungle not knowing about the old Japanese soldier and little boy. Joe was injured and taken back to America. It’s at this point Shinyuki gives Joe his ninja uniform and weapons and instructions on ninja magic. Shinyuki then sends Joe on his way to stop Black Star Ninja and Ortega.
The illegal weapons trade deal gets underway. Before anything can be finalized, the buyers want to see the merchandise. However, from the roof of the truck containing the missile launcher, Joe begins his attack. Ortega orders Black Star Ninja to bring Patricia. He orders Joe to surrender or he’ll kill her. Joe appears and Black Star Ninja puts a knife to Patricia’s throat. Joe throws down his sais and tells Ortega to let her go. Ortega says that was not part of the deal and he orders his ninjas to kill him. Just then, Shinyuji shows up in ninja garb and he and Joe fight the bad ninjas. As our hero and his sensei cut down the bad ninjas, the illegal arms buyers start getting panicky over everything. Ortega assures them that everything will be fine. Black Star Ninja throws a knife at Joe but Shinyuji uses his teleport magic (teleport magic!) to get in the way of the knife. Shinyuji dies and Joe goes after Black Star Ninja. Just then, the colonel and the soldiers attack the compound. Joe fights Black Star Ninja at the ninja training grounds. while the guerrillas are killed by the attacking soldiers. Curtis, whom we get to see shirtless again (yay!), gets a fight scene with the lead guerrilla that is more than a little homoerotic, what with all the nut punches.
With things going badly, the illegal arms buyers start to leave, but Ortega shoots them both dead. Chaos breaks out as the soldiers make their move into the main courtyard. Ortega has the money the arms buyers brought and Patricia and is maneuvering toward a waiting helicopter. Ortega tells the colonel to stand down or he’ll kill Patricia. The colonel does so. When Ortega forces Patricia onto the helicopter anyway, the colonel rushes forward, prompting Ortega to shoot him. The helicopter is ready to take off but Ortega tells them to wait for Black Star Ninja. The battle between him and Joe continues, with lasers even. Joe and Black Star Ninja fight sword for sword in Shinyuki’s lotus pool. Joe succeeds in killing Black Star Ninja and then turns his attention on Ortega. Joe grabs on the helicopter as it’s taking off; Curtis gets the missile launcher. Joe opens the door on his end of the helicopter where Patricia is sitting. He grabs her and leaps off the helicopter as it passes over the roof of the compound. At this, Curtis launchers a missile at the helicopter, blowing it and Ortega up with a sound effect that has a crack of thunder in it. With all the bad guys defeated, Joe unmasks and we get a close up of his face. The end. I assume they find evidence clearing Joe of all wrong doing.
So, that’s American Ninja. It’s an enjoyable popcorn flick. Mr. Dudikoff isn’t the greatest of actors, but he has more charisma than Cannon’s other two big stars – Charles Bronson and Chuck Norris. Yeah, I said it! AND I HAVE NO REGRETS! Also, there is the shirtless glory that is Curtis. I very much recommend this movie. I find it extremely fun.
Until next time.