3 Ninjas Kick Back

"Don't you just hate us?" taunts one pint-sized hero of this kiddie kung-fu pic during a tussle with bad guys. Lines like that should have been avoided at all costs, since you don't have to be aligned with the forces of evil to despise this infantile, obnoxious sequel to 1992's surprisingly enjoyable 3 NINJAS. In the footsteps of the Karate Kid, the...read more

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"Don't you just hate us?" taunts one pint-sized hero of this kiddie kung-fu pic during a tussle with bad guys. Lines like that should have been avoided at all costs, since you don't have to be aligned with the forces of evil to despise this infantile, obnoxious sequel to 1992's

surprisingly enjoyable 3 NINJAS.

In the footsteps of the Karate Kid, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and any other martial-arts franchise that runs low on ideas, this followup sends its title characters to Japan. The eponymous trio's mentor and grandfather (Victor Wong) won a ceremonial sword there at a "ninja tournament" in

the old days, and has been invited to return it for presentation to the next young champ. He hopes the trip will rekindle the resolve of his adolescent disciples, nicknamed Colt (Max Elliott Slade), Rocky (Sean Fox) and Tum Tum (Evan Bonifant), lately more devoted to baseball and meeting girls

than ancient martial wisdom. But the expedition conflicts with an important Little League game, and Grandpa trudges off to the Orient alone.

Meanwhile, Japanese businessman Koga (Sab Shimono), the rival Grandpa defeated in the long-ago tournament, schemes to win back the sword, which he knows is also the key to a cave of treasure. He dispatches his own three ninjas--all idiotic teen heavy-metal dudes--to steal the trophy from

Grandpa's residence. After Colt, Rocky and Tum Tum clobber the louts, they realize that Grandpa took the wrong suitcase--not only is he a marked man; he doesn't even have the sword. The brothers hop the next plane to Japan.

Rocky competes in the ninja tournament, only to be bested by a masked opponent who turns out to be--oh yuck!--a girl! Miyo (Caroline Junko King) turns out to be friendly enough, and the kids bond over a shared enthusiasm for baseball. But Koga, plotting to compel the old man's surrender, then

kidnaps the brats. In short order, the now-four ninjas (with Miyo) escape and confront Koga and his cohorts in the cave of gold, which conveniently starts collapsing around everybody. The brush with doom reforms Koga, and everybody adjourns back to the USA, where Miyo makes the game-winning catch

in that crucial Little League playoff. "See you next time! Bye!" promises/threatens Tum Tum directly to the audience.

Such mugging for the camera is a constant annoyance in 3 NINJAS KICK BACK, as director Charles T. Kanganis seems to think that nothing's funnier than grotesque close-ups of pop-eyed faces, often with mouths agape and chunks of food or tobacco juice spilling out. Said close-ups are interspersed

with odd bits of toilet humor, fat jokes, fart gags, and juvenile tittering based on Miyo's pronunciation of the word "bat" as "butt"--as in her baseball boast "I good at swinging my butt!" Add fidgety camerawork and some hammering Japanese pop tunes and you have an experience that makes Jon

Turteltaub's initial 3 NINJAS seem as elegant as haiku.

Of the cast, only Victor Wong and Max Elliott Slade repeat their roles from the first film. Wong, a veteran actor (EAT A BOWL OF TEA, THE LAST EMPEROR) deserves a spotlight, but his character is basically the same as Noriyuki 'Pat' Morita's from the KARATE KID series, with less dignity and more

pratfalls (and in fight scenes it's painfully obvious where Wong ends and his stunt double begins). As for the shifting roster of kids, let's just say there are limits even to what kung-fu can accomplish when pitted against a lousy script.

On the plus side, the movie's abundant brawls are pure slapstick, without bloodshed or even overt menace. Koga's black-clad ninja legions are flailing fools, easily overcome, and in a particularly cute moment one reaches into his cloak to take a blade to Colt, Rocky and Tum Tum, and mistakenly

whips out a cellular phone instead. While his brothers beat up ninja after ninja, Tum Tum takes the opportunity to phone home and tell their parents they're safe and sound.

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