December 3, 2009

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Ninja Assassin (R)
Blood-soaked ninja-on-ninja action gooses up the thrill factor in Ninja Assassin, a totally fun action flick that is almost completely forgettable once it ends.

Because, frankly, old ninja, bad ninja, good ninja, girl ninja — we’ve seen this all before. What’s fun here is that the ninjas move like inky spirits, slipping into rooms more like clouds of purposeful vapor than like people. They don’t make a sound as they slick through hallways and into the lairs of Asian gangsters and before you know it they’ve sliced your head clean off, leaving the spurting fountain of your neck to linger in the frame before your body flops over.

Old ninja (Sho Kosugi) kidnaps and trains children for the Ozunu clan of ninjas. Sometimes, his little killing robots rebel, like the girl Kiriko. Sometimes they grow into angry avengers, like Raizo (Rain), the boy who loved Kiriko. Sometimes they turn into ninjas with no conscience, like Takeshi (Rick Yune), who is sent to kill Raizo. Sometimes, they don’t get names or backstories and they are just hacked to pieces as part of cool fighting moves.

Because the movie needs an additional woman to put in danger, it also contains a plot of sorts about Interpol agent Mika (Naomie Harris, who gets some bad-ass moments herself) trying to bring down the ninja clans, who can kill with impunity and defying governments and blah blah blah let’s get back to the kicking and the thwacking and the escape from strangleholds.

Either you’ll get into the blood spurting and the fire-framed slo-mos or you’ll be rolling your eyes so hard you get vertigo. Ninja Assassin doesn’t give you arty pretenses like Inglourious Basterds; it goes straight for the stunts and the butt-kicking and assumes you’ll get your fruits and vegetables from some other movie. Here is a movie as slick and oily as the nacho cheese you’ll snack on between fight scenes. And the fact that it has little hints of something — humor here, a nice fight set-up there — I credit, with no evidence whatsoever, to co-writer J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5), who knows a little something about nerd escapism. B-

Rated R for strong bloody stylized violence throughout and language. Directed by Jam McTeigue and written by Matthew Sand and J. Michael Straczynski, Ninja Assassin is an hour and 39 minutes long and distributed in wide release by Warner Bros.