Last night I had the pleasure of re-watching The Graduate, a movie I’ve seen two or three times before. Like any good movie or work of art it has aged well, and it reveals something new every time I watch it.
I also watched Ninja Vengeance, which is hands down the worst movie ever made for any reason ever. It is the cinematic equivalent of what Patton Oswalt calls “A failure pile in a sadness bowl.” It’s such a bad movie that I did not finish it – I always finish movies. I finished Batman and fucking Robin.
What I wanted to write about was the matter of shifting identity in The Graduate – specifically, how one is supposed to identify with the character of Benjamin Braddock, but yet as I watched the movie with my roommates, we found ourselves pining for rumpus rooms, backyard swimming pools, and strong liquor out of kitschy decanters: the very things we’re supposed to dismiss as shallow and empty. That sounds like a really great idea for an entry, but it’s not going to be the one I do today.
Instead, I’m going to tell you about Ninja Vengeance. I am doing this as a community service so that nobody else has to get drunk on a Thursday night, click through On Demand, and go through what I went through.
Now, the teaser for the movie said that this was the story of a young ninja whose motorcycle breaks down in a small town full of corrupt cops and the KKK. I know, awesome right? You’re all like “holy shit, this ninja is going to fucking go buck wild on these hillbillies!”
(Hillbillies are kind of like zombies or Nazis – they’re an antagonistic target you can just shoot and kill and beat up with no consequences because they’re eeeeeevil. This movie does nothing to make the antagonists even remotely sympathetic – you hope from square one that they all wind up impaled on their own pitchforks.)
So the movie starts with a credit sequence over a bunch of dudes karate wrestling in mud or something. The footage has been run through a black-and-white negative filter. It all looks like a creepy X-ray which has the hilarious effect of making Stephen Hayes, a real-life ninja who plays the roll of ninja master / yoda / walking self-help book, look like Kenny Rogers.
After this title sequence we see the guy who will become our hero riding down a country highway. He is riding down the highway on a Kawasaki Ninja motorcycle. I did not make that up. He also has the kind of big feathered moussey hair that men wore in the late 80’s, and we see that hair for the first time when he takes his helmet off to reveal that he basically looks like a wimpy James Van Der Beek.
This highway driving sequence is intercut with a young woman getting out of bed and dressing. There’s a little bit of side boob, and then she goes into town in a truck. If it seems obvious to you that these two people are on a collision course, remember that I had to watch the damn thing.
Ninja guy goes into a diner and hears some hillbillies making crowd talk. The waitress gets up from central casting and asks “sugar” what he’ll have. He orders oatmeal and fruit. I want him dead.
Ninja guy doesn’t even get his food before two black guys and a white guy walk into the diner. One black guy and the white guy just blend into the background, but the other black guy stands out because he’s wearing John Lennon glasses and sports a high-top fade. He looks like a back-up dancer for Diggable Planets. He also looks like he’s got a bad case of ringworm.
The newcomers sit down and are immediately harassed by the hillbillies at the bar – one of whom is a cop, the kind of cop who walks around with his shirt open down to his belly. The cop is also very obviously later revealed to be in the Ku Klux Klan.
A fight breaks out, and the two black guys and their white friend decide to leave. Ninja guy, disgusted at all this racism, gets up and leaves himself. Unfortunately (for him and the viewer) his motorcycle won’t start. Redneck cop guy has a chuckle and tells Ninja Guy that that’s what he gets for buying a foreign vehicle, and sends him to a mechanic up the road.
Ninja guy gets on the pay phone and apologizes for being late to some “seminar.”
This word comes up so frequently that it starts to sound weird. Seminar. Seminar. Seminar. I’m pretty sure this is one of those things you saw a lot of in the 80’s like “Karate chop your way to the top,” or “boardroom samurai” or something like that, something that tried to equate working in accounts receivable with snapping someone’s neck in half.
078u90Next thing, Ninja Guy is at the mechanic’s getting his motorcycle looked at. The mechanic names a bunch of auto parts that sound kind of like real auto parts if you’re not paying attention, and then the movie gets a bit confused on its location – Ninja guy says he’s heading from South Dakota to Texas, but the mechanic talks about getting one part from Raleigh, and another from Charlotte, and that these parts will be there in time to have the bike fixed by noon tomorrow. While there may very well be significant towns named Raleigh and Durham in Kansas, I’m just going to suggest that this movie sucks.
Sideboob girl is at the diner, and the Waitress tells her about the earlier altercation. Sideboob talks about “getting out of here,” and gives a lot of credit to Waitress for going to Hollywood and trying to be an actress. A little kid comes out and calls Waitress “mommy,” further reinforcing Waitress’ stereo-typicality.
Waitress is played by Carrie Armstrong, the only person from this whole mess with a photo-inclusive IMDB profile page. She’s also not completely dreadful, though I can’t help but notice that the producer’s name is Karl Armstrong, and so I’m guessing she didn’t go through a blind audition for this role.
Outside the diner, Sideboob meets up with Flattop. It turns out they’re friends, and both of them want to get out of town. They tell each other their life stories, including the part about how they grew up together and know everything about each other, and Flattop encourages sideboob to put her college application in the mail. They go into a general store or something, and a big fat hilbilly in a flannel shirt yells for Sideboob to get to work, and for Flattop to get out of his store.
Ninja guy walks his way across town to a hotel, and on the way he sees sideboob having truck problems. He offers to help (what’s with this town and cars?) and he gets the car started. They have some completely forced romant-ish banter, and go their separate ways.
While this is happening, flat top is walking out of town when a bunch of trucks pull up. Hillbillies jump out, punch and kick the air in front of Flattop’s face and groin, causing him to fall down, and then they throw him in the back of their truck, driving off with menacing hoots, hollers, and yee-haws.
Ninja guy does a lot of really feeble martial arts moves in the back yard of the hotel – very discreet, Mr. Ninja, way to show off your secret dark art in broad daylight. He has the first of several creepy flashbacks to training on the beach with Kenny Rogers, who has a lot of nuggets of Ninja Wisdom, like adapting and feeling and such. Then Kenny Rogers gives Ninja Guy a yin-yang necklace that he bought at hot topic and tells Ninja Guy to focus on it. After that, Ninja Guy goes for a run.
As he’s running, he hears the tortured screams of Flattop and jogs into the woods to investigate. There, around a camp fire, are about half a dozen KKK guys kicking the crap out of Flattop. Then, in a moment of really shocking brutality, Open Shirt Cop takes off his hood and beats Flattop to death with an axe handle. Holy fuck!
Ninja guy runs right up to Flattop with very little interruption and announces that Flattop is dead.
The hillbillies all come after Ninja Guy, and they trade blows for a little bit, but while Ninja Guy has some pretty sweet moves, he gets better than he gives and soon the hillbillies have him held fast. These being hillbillies, however, one of them stumbles into the fire and his KKK robe goes up like a roman candle. In the rush to put out burning KKK guy, Ninja Guy’s detainers break their concentration and are overpowered. Ninja guy escapes into the river and swims away.
Then the most colossal plot hole in history opens up and sucks this movie even further into crapulant crapitude: Ninja guy gets to a 7-11 and calls the police. Bear in mind that he saw the police at the diner earlier, he recognized one of the guys as a policeman at the bonfire – the cops ARE the KKK – but yet Ninja guy calls to report the police to the police. Then he meditates on the curb, and apparently dozes off before he can realize how stupid he is, because the cops show up, kick him a few times, and lock him up in jail.
In jail, Ninja has some more fantasies about his ninja instructor, and Sideboob comes looking for Flattop. Flattop’s mom finds out that her son is dead, and Sideboob drives her to the police station. Naturally, Ninja guy is being framed for it, and Flattop’s Mom talks to Ninja Guy. She doesn’t believe ninja guy did it, and that’s enough for Sideboob to believe it too. Flattop’s mom walks home, and Sideboob goes in to dig up some dirt regarding Flattop’s death.
While she’s doing that, Ninja Guy breaks out of his cell – no, you don’t get to see how he does this, which would be awesome and is therefor not allowed – and then rather than stealthily slip away, walks right into the office where Open Shirt Cop is talking to Sideboob. Open Shirt Cop, shirt still open, reaches for his pistol and fires, but Sideboob hits him in the back of the head, knocking him unconscious. While Ninja Guy handcuffs Open Shirt Cop, Sideboob rummages through a filing cabinet and finds Ninja Guy’s necklace. Since they don’t have headshops or Spencer gifts in this small town, a yin-yang necklace is a big deal, and so she takes it.
They make their escape and drive away. Their escape is intercut with “back at the police station” scenes where Open Shirt Cop’s Dad finds Open Shirt Cop unconscious and in a cell, chastises him for failing at life, and then calls for a road block.
While sideboob drives, Ninja guy suspects a roadblock (he’s so smart – the cops were JUST TALKING about road blocks in the scene before) and so he gets out of the truck because he doesn’t need anybody but himself, and he can survive in the woods (so he says). Sideboob says that she knows the woods like the back of her hand, and chases after him.
They walk through the woods carrying on some excruciating expository dialogue. Ninja guy says some fancy ninja word for using the elements to disguise himself, and then starts to smear mud on his face and shirt – not enough to actually blend in with his surroundings, just enough to look like he crapped in the woods, used his shirt to wipe, and then put it back on. Sideboob exclaims “Camouflage!” and then they have a mud fight – throwing mud at each other, rolling around in the mud, and so on.
Yes, you guessed correctly – this is magical disappearing-reappearing mud that is alternately on-and-then-not-on their clothes as the movie plays out.
They bicker back and forth while the hillbillies conspire to hunt them down. They find Sideboob’s truck, and Sideboob’s dad, Open Shirt Cop, and Open Shirt Dad magically figure out where the two are. They catch up with the duo in the middle of the night, and there is another fight. The hillbillies have guns, and Ninja Guy and Sideboob are dead to rights, but Open Shirt Cop decides he’d rather fight Ninja Guy mano-a-mano. It is loudly announced that Open Shirt Cop was “trained real good” by the marines, presumably to make this fight more convincing, but given Ninja Guy’s skill exhibited thus far, it’s not like we need a lot of persuading.
In the fight, Ninja guy goes for the gun, gets it, and points it at the hillbillies who outgun him by a factor of , oh, infinity to one. Rather than just order the hillbillies to pump Ninja guy full of lead and be done with it, Open Shirt Cop fights with Ninja Dude again in an attempt to disarm him. Predictably, the gun goes off (no nod to Chekhov here) and blasts Open Shirt Dad right in the chest. Open Shirt Cop holds his dad as he dies, sobbing and crying (which was probably just as embarrassing and uncomfortable for Open Shirt Dad as it was for the viewer) and swearing revenge.
Ninja Guy and Sideboob get away in all the confusion, and Ninja Guy has an unconvincing why-oh-why self-pitying moment: why did I take the gun? Why couldn’t I avoid violence? Why am I the only Ninja that fake-cries when he kills somebody? Sideboob gives him some there-there, and then we cut to the KKK hall, which is a lot like a Knights of Columbus hall with more bedsheets and confederate flags. There, Open Shirt Cop starts the crowd chanting “white power, white power, white power.”
Every actor in the scene looks terribly ashamed and embarrassed, and half of them are very obviously just mouthing the words and averting their eyes.
This is about where I stopped watching. At 87 minutes, Ninja Vengeance is 87 minutes longer than it has to be. I don’t know if I was close to the end, or just wading through the dregs of the middle, but brother let me tell you, I literally could not bear another second.
With a name like Ninja Vengeance, you expect ninjas and vengeance. The ninja was a colossal wuss in some sort of self-doubting personal crisis of…well, we never really learn what the ninjas problem is. He has a lot of angst, and is impatient or something, but we never really know why. Furthermore, this is a ninja who doesn’t really seem up on vengeance – he talks a lot about avoiding fights and such, and even when locked up and accused of a crime he didn’t commit, he’s kind of like “Well *shrug* you know, balance and stuff, or whatever.”
This is not just a bad movie, it’s also a boring movie. Avoid at all costs.
A Look Back – 28 December 2021
This movie review is extra important for a few reasons.
One, because back in the golden days of the early 2010s, the internet was still kind of a cute, naïve place where organic content mattered. If you had a pocket full of dreams, a blogger account, and a little bit of gumption, you could write reviews that people would read and make fun videos that people would watch and it wasn’t all just 1000 percent hatred and bile all the time.
Two, this review was the one that got me and my friends Kelli & Tricia together to conspire on RENTAL REHAB, a now-defunct site of bad movie reviews. It’s not up any longer, I don’t think, and despite the three of us saying frequently that we’ll all go back and do more reviews, we never do.
Three, it’s a time capsule not just of early 2010s internet whimsy generally, but of the whole bad movie review subgenre. It’s hard to overstate what a “THING” this was – it was how every and any entry-level web writer started making their mark. Bad movies were red meat – we all tore into them whenever we could, and some of the best examples are still out there (Jabootu’s bad movie dimension, for example).
And finally, because what good is a list if we don’t make it to four items, it’s from a time when meaningful opinions on film were possible because film was different and weird and lumpy in a way that doesn’t seem to be as true today.
There’s more than a little lamentation that it’s all Marvel Movies & sequels now. That’s not entirely true thanks in large part to the various streaming services which seem to be the go-to for less well-trod movie themes. Even then, it’s hard not to feel a little tired – the same actors, the same plots…and thanks to digital editing, things are often just a little too good. It seldom feels like there’s any blood in cinema lately. I don’t know – I’m not an insider, just a guy who used to write bad movie reviews.