“American Ninja 5” is another one of those movies that I enjoyed way more than I think I should have. It is absolutely mindless, the plot is nonsense, and there is even an abysmal child actor in the middle of the action to boot. Despite all of it, I really enjoyed this film. It is cheesy, but in all of the good ways that I want a ninja movie to be. The only huge issue with the movie is the PG-13 rating, which goes back to some truly baffling production decisions behind the scenes of this feature. Those odd puppeteering decisions I think are the real reason this movie seems to be so reviled.
I’ve mentioned before how nerd rage / existing fandoms can be a blessing or a curse depending on how they are treated. Whereas “Super Mario Bros” made baffling creative changed over the process of translating the source material to a new medium, “American Ninja 5” is not the result of such a dramatic translation: it is a sequel to other films, which have their own following. However, there were huge changes made in this movie that understandably perplexed and annoyed “American Ninja” fans. Characters’ names were changed, continuity with previous films was brushed off, the violence was toned down for a PG-13 rating, and the a young child was injected into the center of the franchise a la “Indiana Jones”. These decisions make a lot more sense when you discover that this movie was never intended to be part of the “American Ninja” series. The name “American Ninja 5” was tacked on to the movie after the fact for two reasons: 1) Producers’ hopes it would increase sales, and 2) the lead actor’s association with the existing franchise. I doubt that they ever considered that fans would turn on them for the changes.
The movie itself was actually pretty enjoyable for me, specifically because I don’t have any vested interest in the franchise. I have never seen the other “American Ninja” movies, so I didn’t have any expectations walking in. If you can separate the movie from its title, this is a way better family-friendly ninja movie than anything in the “3 Ninjas” franchise. The fights are generally well choreographed, and there are plenty of over-the-top aspects that make the film entertaining to sit through. The primary antagonist ninja has a mullet, a massive gold medallion, and a “Manos: The Hands of Fate” cape. What more could you want? Even the child actor is way less aggravating than I expected going in.
Don’t get me wrong, “American Ninja 5” is a bad movie. There are massive leaps in logic, terrible dialogue, and way too many indistinguishable characters. There is even an astounding number of blatant product placements for the Sega Game Gear. Really.
However, this is way better than just about everything else I have watched recently. It has genuine good-bad qualities: earnestness, overloaded action, hammy acting, hilariously bad dialogue, tropes and cliches by the dozens, a plot thinner than the film itself: things that I can appreciate. The rage at this movie, which is justified, mostly deserves to be leveled at the production team off-screen. If you can trim off all of the baggage this movie has behind the scenes and in the title, you can have some real fun with it. In any case, I thought it was a delightful surprise, and can highly recommend this as a good-bad feature.