A concise, witty script, an extremely likeable and attractive group of performers, and an abundance of exciting, well-staged kung-fu combat scenes add up to the kind of enjoyable, unpretentious family entertainment the major studios once excelled at but seem to have forgotten how to make.
SURF NINJAS is a martial arts-themed comedy for the whole family that features bloodless kung-fu battles, an endless stream of often amusing adolescent wisecracks, and a complete lack of profanity.
Two brothers, 15-year-old Johnny (Ernie Reyes, Jr.) and 10-year-old Adam (Nicolas Cowan), living the good life in Southern California with their adoptive father, Mac (John Karlen), suddenly find themselves attacked by an army of ninja warriors. Coming to their rescue is a mysterious one-eyed
stranger named Zatch (Ernie Reyes, Sr.) who reveals to the boys that they are the only living heirs to the throne of the island kingdom of Patu San in the China Sea. When the boys were very young, the renegade Colonel Chi (Leslie Nielsen) deposed their father and took over the island. With the
help of Zatch, their uncle and bodyguard, the boys were smuggled out by Mac, a trusted American seaman, who took them to California.
The boys stubbornly resist Zatch's patriotic appeals, but the attacks keep coming, ordered via trans-Pacific phone calls by a frustrated Chi, whose gaping wounds, inflicted by an elephant during the coup, have been repaired by electronic parts. When Mac is abducted, the boys, joined by their
beach buddy Iggy (Rob Schneider), follow Zatch's lead and seek refuge in Los Angeles' "Little Patu San," where they link up with Ro-May (Kelly Hu), the Patusani girl who was betrothed to Johnny as a baby. After a renewed attack by the ninjas is fended off by both Zatch and Johnny, the party boards
a freighter headed for Patu San. Lieutenant Spence (Tone-Loc), a pursuing LA policeman, inadvertently makes the trip with them and winds up joining their cause.
On Patu San, the army of six travels from village to village, rallying the peasants to join their revolt against the despotic Chi. When they reach Chi's impregnable fortress, Adam--the group's seer, thanks to a handheld electronic game which warns him of danger--envisions a fleet of surfboards,
carved from the surrounding trees, as the only strategic means of attack. Led by Johnny and Zatch, the Patusani peasant warriors ride the waves, hit the beach and scale the walls of Chi's fortress. In the ensuing battle, Mac is rescued and Johnny kills the electronically-enhanced Chi by pushing
him into a pool of water. In an elaborate ceremony before the cheering populace, Johnny declares that his first act as king will be to dissolve the monarchy.
Although obviously derivative of BILL AND TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE and the TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES films, SURF NINJAS' plot more closely resembles that of SAVAGE DRUMS, a 1951 vehicle for Indian star Sabu, in which a Pacific island monarch (and part-time prizefighter) living in California
goes back home with two American sidekicks to avert a Communist takeover. Like the earlier film, SURF NINJAS boasts a minority star (the Asian-Latino Reyes Jr.) with a goofy white sidekick. The excellent martial arts choreography is the work of the star's father, Ernie Reyes Sr., who also plays
Zatch. The Patu San scenes were shot in Thailand, making excellent use of the country's distinctive terrain and architecture to enhance the low-budget production values.
The one false note in the film is the miscasting of Leslie Nielsen as Asian warlord Colonel Chi. While Nielsen deftly handles the comic aspects of the part, he fails to convey the character's tyrannical side. His death scene, in which Johnny deliberately pushes him into a pool of water to
electrocute him, is completely at odds with the light-hearted tone of the rest of the film and represents a shocking moral lapse on Johnny's part. (Violence.)
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- Released: 1993
- Rating: PG
- Review: A concise, witty script, an extremely likeable and attractive group of performers, and an abundance of exciting, well-staged kung-fu combat scenes add up to the kind of enjoyable, unpretentious family entertainment the major studios once excelled at but se… (more)