The first time I ever saw “Mortal Kombat” was in 1992 when I stopped by a grocery store on the way to school and saw a pair of guys battling one another on the arcade cabinet. Though “Street Fighter 2” was huge, “Mortal Kombat” made its own waves by realistic character models and some of the most vicious video game violence ever conceived in its era. So came the 1995 movie where not even then was there this much babbling about supernatural forces, and tournaments. “The Journey Begins” works overtime to build a mythology from this simple video game, and fails big time. It feels like someone at Threshold Studios were alerted about the upcoming movie and only had about two weeks to build a respectable animated tie-in.
“Home Alone” begat “3 Ninjas,” which begat cheap, kiddie, straight to video, action fare like “Double Blast.” Mixing the appeal of the adventure movie with kids fighting crime, both of which were oddly prevalent in the decade, “Double Blast” is the epitome of the poorly constructed cash ins that littered video stores. The movie is so bad that often times you can see the pair of heroes burst in to laughter as they engage in martial arts with the film’s comedic henchmen. Jimmy and Lisa are an adventurous brother and sister who love to get in to adventures involving ninjas and martial arts. When their dad, a professional kick boxer and widower named Greg goes out for the day to compete in a tournament, rather than take them along, the pair of kids ultimately gets in to big trouble back in town.
If you were like me in 1992, a nine year old with a love for ninjas, then “3 Ninjas” was one of the most kick ass movies of the decade. I worshiped Bruce Lee, and watched “American Ninja” constantly, so John Turtletaub’s film hit all the right notes with a young lad such as myself. “3 Ninjas” is the product of a time where every single studio sought to cash in on the success of “Home Alone” by offering their own unique twists on the genre. This time rather than Kevin McAllister being a devious little boy with Jigsaw-like talents for making traps, the studio provides us with tween protagonists of varying ages that are also practicing ninjas. As a whole “3 Ninjas” isn’t a lot like “Home Alone,” save for mid-way when the movie’s narrative literally halts to present us with its own truncated version of “Home Alone.”
By 1993, Robocop had turned from a Christ allegory with a vicious blood streak to a bonafide kids’ mascot who was appearing on lunch boxes and Saturday morning cartoons. Thus was the weird period of the eighties and nineties where even folks like Conan, Rambo, Chuck Norris, and heck, even Freddy Krueger became kiddie fodder. The official final go around for Robocop is a tame and pretty dull 1993 film that director Fred Dekker is saddled with, that takes Robocop in to more family friendly territory right down to having a spunky child sidekick. Not much has happened for Robocop and Detroit since the first two films, as the city is still very much under the death grip of crime, while OCP still controls every going on. Dekker has a lot of catching up to do and sadly doesn’t deliver much in the way of a great sequel, as “Robocop 3” essentially repeats a lot of the same beats from the first two films.
When last we saw Sean Davidson, he was a martial arts competitor thrust in to a plot involving a secret organization engineering a huge virus. Now he’s in the military as a top secret enforcer—for some reason. I guess Curtis Jackson had some connections and hooked Sean up over the course of a year? David Bradley is back as pseudo-American Ninja Sean, a man who is by no means a ninja. But he can recognized types of ninjas, so that counts. I think. Thankfully, Michael Dudikoff returns as Joe Armstrong, the original American Ninja who is now a peace corps officer and has turned down all efforts to be turned in to a covert military officer.
It’s out with Michael Dudikoff and in with David Bradley. After a rumored spat on set with Steve James and the director for “Blood Hunt,” David Bradley was brought on as the new American Ninja. His name is Sean Davidson and he’s not so much an American Ninja, as he is a kung fu fighter who fights ninjas a lot in “Blood Hunt.” Despite Bradley’s best efforts to steal the movie as the new charismatic hero, “Blood Hunt” is boring, confusing, and unnecessarily convoluted. I had such a hard time following the plot, and David Bradley doesn’t quite stack up to Dudikoff. Bradley’s character is a hodge podge of action clichés with a tragic back story that is never quite realized well in the film. He shambles through the movie getting in to battles with ninjas while Steve James returns doing his best to inject some fun in the movie.
Someone must have gotten a whiff of “Lethal Weapon” because while “American Ninja” was about lone wolf Joe Armstrong, “American Ninja 2” is a buddy action film with Joe Armstrong and pal Curtis Armstrong teaming up to kick some ninja ass. Steve James is given a much larger role this time around with Dudikoff also being allowed to speak more often for the role of Joe. If you look closely, he also manages to crack a smile and tell a few jokes here and there. The good thing about “Confrontation” is that James and Dudikoff have great chemistry together with a very “Power Man and Iron Fist” vibe evident throughout this latest action adventure. Their dynamic allows the series to open up more and give Dudikoff a chance to play off of someone while kicking ass.
Golan-Globus’s “American Ninja” from 1985 is the perfect Regan Era action movie cum franchise starter that offers up the right amount of camp and action, along with the ninja glorification that dominated the eighties. Directed well by Sam Firstenberg, “American Ninja” is the introduction of action star Michael Dudikoff whose debut is rather memorable and dynamic. Despite the fact Dudikoff has about ten lines of dialogue in the entirety of “American Ninja,” he is pretty much the ideal American action hero. He looks like James Dean, he fights like Bruce Lee, and he’s a one man army from the military like John Rambo. The icing on the cake is that his name is Joe. Joe Armstrong. Get it? He’s an American Joe with the skills of the ancient Ninja.