Today’s feature is the second movie I am covering with the redundant title of “Lethal Ninja,” this one being a convoluted 1991 ninja flick packed full of more nonsense than action.
“Lethal Ninja” was directed and written for the screen by Stefan Rudnicki, who notably served as the second unit director on the IMDb Bottom 100 feature “Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders.” The story is credited to someone named “Wes Martin,” who is not associated with the film on IMDb, and who I have not been able to find.
As far as the rest of the crew goes, the movie was produced by a man named Steve Rockmael, who worked as a producer on the first season of “Ancient Aliens,” and had costume design from Miye Matsumoto, who also worked on the “3 Ninjas” sequels (including “High Noon At Mega Mountain”). So far, the team has a pretty stellar collection of credits, right?
The original music on “Lethal Ninja” is credited to Jeff Lass, who is best known for his contributions to the soundtrack for 1990’s “Dick Tracy,” which was helmed by and starred Warren Beatty.
The story of “Lethal Ninja” centers around a city with a crime-riddled Chinatown, where a mysterious mercenary ninja named J.D. offers to solve the extreme gang problems off the books, and for a price.
The original title of the movie was “For Hire,” which makes a lot more sense with the plot. I’m not sure what the logic of the name change was, but “Lethal Ninja” has to be one of the most ridiculous titles they could have come up with. Personally, I would have gone with the best of both worlds: “Ninja For Hire.”
“Lethal Ninja” has an IMDb rating of 4.8, from less than 30 members of the IMDb voting base. That definitely makes this an obscure flick, though it has gotten a bit more exposure as of recently since it was featured on RedLetterMedia’s “Best of the Worst.”
The opening of “Lethal Ninja” starts with an inexplicable dance party inside of an empty apartment, which quickly leads to dance fighting over early 90s rap. The rap number, of course, features extensive choreography. It is one of the few moments in the film that absolutely must be seen, and immediately throws you into the chaos of the movie.
“Lethal Ninja” notably centers on one of the least believable ninjas in cinema history: a be-mulleted white dude with a flair for the dramatic played by David Heavener, who has spent his entire career in similar b-movie productions.
As is tradition with many low-budget productions, there are a number of notable shots where boom microphones hilariously enter the frame that failed to be re-shot. It makes for a fun little game to keep your eyes peeled on the top boundary of the screen for their unintentional cameos.
Perhaps the most notorious segment of “Lethal Ninja” occurs during a funeral, which features a thoroughly uninspiring eulogy, an attempted assassination by a gangster in drag, and a wheelchair flip.
Unfortunately, most of the fight choreography in “Lethal Ninja” is pretty uninteresting, and never much captures a sense of excitement. It makes what should be compelling scenes pretty slow, and drags down the overall pacing of the flick.
For reasons that are unclear to me, there are a number of awkward attempts at humor peppered into the script for “Lethal Ninja.” One of the most awful instances I can recall is a stilted one-liner, which the ninja uses after sneaking up on a handful of gang members:
“Excuse me boys and girls, there sure is a great view up here, but isn’t it past your bedtime?”
First off, that is a way too long and verbose for a one-liner, which should be short and snappy. Secondly, why on earth would a ninja ruin the element of surprise? Isn’t being stealthy part of the whole “ninja” concept?
“Lethal Ninja” features one child actor prominently on screen, who plays a young boy being trained and mentored by the ninja. The character winds up following him around for a good portion of the movie, theoretically providing comic relief. Surprisingly, he isn’t particularly awful, which took me aback. For a movie like this, the fact that they wound up with a not-abysmal child actor is astoundingly unlikely.
The acting in “Lethal Ninja” is really a mixed bag: most of the villains play their roles very straight, never getting particularly hammy (which is really a shame). I’m still undecided on Heavener, who has some thoroughly awkward line deliveries, but mostly sells the character. The majority of the cast is pretty awful, but rarely in a way that is entertaining.
There is one incredibly terrible sex scene in the movie featuring one of the main bad guys, which features the large hairy man repeating “obey me” with a thoroughly unsettling look on his face. I wouldn’t call it a highlight, but it is impossible not to comment on.
Arguably the central villain for most of the movie is a former friend of J.D.’s named Miles, who almost rivals him in terms of ridiculous hairstyles and fashion sense. He’s probably the most entertaining villain in regards of his scenes and dialogue, but he also has what was easily the worst fight scene in the movie. At one point, Miles and J.D. battle in a park, awkwardly climbing trees and parrying each other until they decide to bow and go their separate ways. The whole sequence feels totally unnecessary, and is very dull to watch unfold.
Overall, “Lethal Ninja” is a very slow movie with only a few highlight moments (gang meditation and a car bomb plot, for instance), and isn’t particularly easy to follow. The poor sound quality makes dialogue difficult to understand, and the plot is convoluted and packed with characters to start with. That said, the highlight moments are definitely big highlights, and arguably are worth sitting through the rest of the movie for. There are some more entertainingly awful ninja movies out there, but this one will certainly work if that is what you are craving.