B-Movies of our Youth: American Ninja (1985)
Movie Name: American Ninja
Director: Sam Firstenberg
Producers: Yoram Globus, Menahem Golan
Actors: Michael Dudikoff, Guich Koock, Judie Aronson and Steve James
Release Date: August 30th, 1985
Box Office: $10,499,694 (USA)
Last year we reviewed the Bloodfist series starring Don "The Dragon" Wilson. This year we decided to review another B-Movie martial arts movie in the American Ninja series of films.
This is another one of those franchises that we would rent from time to time from our local movie store. Also, it is one of those franchises that if it is on TV I will watch. It is so bad that it is good deals.
Let us see if these movies have aged that well.
The movie starts with a brand new recruit in the army by the name of Private Joe Armstrong (played by Michael Dudikoff). The true reason that he is there is that a judge thought that this was better than punishing him in prison. He is a very quiet guy and he does not seem to get triggered very easily.
During the first action sequence of events, he is on an escort mission with some merchandise and the daughter of Colonel William Hickock (played by Guich Koock) Patricia Hickock (played by Judie Aronson). However, things go sideways and everyone gets killed and wiped out except for Armstrong and Patricia. The bad guys seem to be Ninja's. Armstrong is able to fight through them though and save Patricia.
Since he is the only one that survives, the rest of the crew do not see Armstrong favourably, as they think he just left everyone there to die and took the girl. However, this does not change his demeanor. He remains quiet and calm, even when he is being harassed.
Then to teach him a lesson, Corporal Curtis Jackson (played by Steve James) challenges Armstrong to a fight to see who is the better man. Armstrong shows that he can hold his own and Jackson is impressed. In fact, the had never seen someone with so much ability.
We learn soon after that Armstrong does not have a very good long term memory. He remembers very little of his childhood. In fact, according to his records, he only has been on the map for the last 6 years. What happened before is all a blur. Right after this Armstrong with the help of Jackson gets off the compound for a date with Patricia. During their date Armstrong notices that Sergeant is having a meeting with a black marketer called Victor Ortega.
We soon learn that Ortega has hired a rogue Ninja to train his army to make sure that deals go his way. He has a few army people on his payroll. In addition to the Sergeant we learn that Patricia's father, William Hickock is also in on the action. However, he things that it is too dangerous right now to continue with the plan. Ortega does not like this and continues anyways.
In the meantime, we learn that Armstrong is being helped by a grounds keeper who ends up being a master in the art of Ninja. He taught Armstrong all that he knows and he suppressed his memory to relieve him of his pain. He learns the last lesson in being a Ninja and e is now a full blown Ninja.
After all of that Armstrong, Jackson and the rest, catch Ortega during a deal, selling some weapons. Things do not go as planned and the plan falls through but he ends up killing the person he was trading with and takes the money. Ortega was about to get away but he wanted to wait for his head ninja. This of course ended up costing him.
American Ninja Trailer
Has this movie held up after all these years? Well, not really, but it will always be a guilty pleasure of mine.
Let us go into some aspects of the movie. The plot as expected is pretty weak by today's standards. It has been done numerous times. May be it was not done with Ninja's but a military guy that knows martial arts and is a one man wrecking crew. Just seems like template stuff. However, back then these were the stories that were popular (Missing in Action, Delta Force, Under Siege).
Fun Fact: The part of Armstrong was originally written for Chuck Norris, however, he turned down the role. According to some reports, he apparently was not a fan of covering up his face. Is this true or not, I am not sure.
However, after auditioning hundreds of people they ended up hiring Michael Dudikoff, which is weird as he had no martial arts training at the time. He had the looks and the choreographer for the movie Mike Stone, advised that he was athletic and he could learn the martial arts moves. Dudikoff took the role seriously. He has been training in various martial arts including karate, aikido, judo and in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
The fight choreography in this movie is very low budget. The movies look very telegraphed and slow. I am not sure if this is the fault of the actors or the actual fight scenes. This is especially true when looking at fights with Steve James.
One thing to note, it seems either they ran out of budget for the blood or they took it out completely. There are times when Armstrong penetrates an enemy's chest with a sword and there is no blood. Was this sponsored by Nintendo? If you are not familiar with that reference, it comes from the Mortal Kombat game, where SEGA Genesis had blood in the game but the Super Nintendo had replaced the blood with sweat droplets.
The love interest here is very by the book. Nothing here really stands out. I am pretty sure that you will not remember the actress or the character years down the road.
I will admit, that when I think of the American Ninja movie franchise I think of Dudikoff and Steve James. It seems though at least for this movie, he had a secondary role. You may be see him for 15 minutes in total in the whole film. However, the scenes with him are much better than the rest.
Having said all of that, I think this movie fits in the category of B-Movies very well. It is 80's cheese with some wonky fighting. It is far from great but I still enjoy it from time to time. It brings me back to a time when we did not take these movies too seriously and I think they knew that they were cheesy. I recommend it to anyone that has not seen it, especially if you are a fan of b=mediocre martial arts movies.