Overview: When an evil crime lord, who happens to be twelve years old, concocts some sort of scheme or something, a martial arts master sends his three pubescent students to stop him.
Directed By: Dave Eddy, 1997.
The Case For: On the off chance that you're some sort of crazy vampire-like creature who needs to feed upon montages in order to survive, you will never go hungry again.
The Case Against: At heart, this movie is just a rip off of "3 Ninjas," and yet, it somehow manages to be unimaginably worse than that premise suggests. Perhaps this is because the movie was not so much "directed" as it was "grafted," much like one's skin is grafted to one's face from one's ass.
When some low budget horror movie turns out terribly, it's a shame. It doesn't take much to make a few good scares, and seeing a bunch of people fail at that relatively simple task is always a little bit of a downer. But at the same time, what fails to be scary usually ends up being unintentionally funny, much to the delight of B-movie junkies everywhere. When a children's movie reaches that level of failure, however, it isn't funny. In fact, it's possible that nothing will ever be funny again. "Pocket Ninjas" joins the ranks of such films as "MAC and Me" and, God help me, "Nukie" as a PG film meant for the whole family that is almost impossibly bad. If you've read our reviews of "MAC and Me" and "Nukie," you know that these are not comparisons I make lightly. Hell, I try to not even think about those movies unless I can schedule a good seven-hour chunk of time in my immediate future in which to do nothing but hug a pillow and cry. Yet, I'm breaking out the big guns for "Pocket Ninjas," and I do so without remorse, because I truly believe that this movie gave me a brain tumor. And not the cool, super power-inducing kind of brain tumor, either, unless that super power is to really, really hate "Pocket Ninjas." This movie is a confusing mass of crappy training montages made out of the same six shots recycled over and over again, sewn together loosely by a plot that is so intricate in its incomprehensibility that I have to assume that understanding the logic behind it is the key to producing sustainable cold fusion, curing mankind of all disease, and finding the lost city of Atlantis. Unfortunately, no one is ever going to really understand it, so fusion will stay hot, millions of people will die sick and alone, and Atlantis can just go fuck itself. I hate this movie.
He's just begging to be crucified, isn't he?
"Pocket Ninjas" opens with a silhouetted karate instructor going through various standard "look at me, I've been granted serenity through martial arts" moves, as a karate class made up of people who clearly weren't even bribed well enough to bother pretending they knew what they were doing practices the same blocking technique over and over again. My own personal studies in martial arts have been limited at best, but even I can tell that those blocks would be about as effective at stopping an incoming attack as shielding yourself with wet spaghetti. A Wonder Years-style narrator spews a load of crap about the best memories of youth. It is never adequately explained just which character this voice over is supposed to represent. My money's on Steve, the movie's token fat little bastard, but it could also be Damien, who is supposed to be the movie's central character despite appearing in fewer scenes than the rest of the kids. Talking about unforgettable moments, the narrator speaks of "Your first kiss... your first love... of course, there's always the first time you save the universe!" Let me make this clear right here and now: at no point in this movie is the universe ever in danger. All problems faced in this movie are on a strictly local scale. Don't let Dave Eddy, that unscrupulous shit, or anyone else tell you otherwise.
Do you like this image? Good, because it's going to show up another forty-six thousand times.
As the narrator fades out, the scene transitions into the movie's first recurring montage. HOORAY! In it, karate master Jack Crenshaw (played by Gary "I was in 'Fist of the North Star,' what the hell happened?" Daniels) trains his three pupils, Steve, Damien, and Tanya, in the ancient art of looking like they're learning karate. The montage, which thankfully only lasts for a minute this time around, consists of the students taking turns kicking a punching bag held by their teacher, and then shots of the students throwing punches with various looks of determination/utter confusion on their faces. Their expressions speak volumes about the way this movie was directed. It's like you can practically hear Dave Eddy saying, "Alright, kids, we're just going to shoot these six shots and use them for every other good guy montage in the movie, of which there will be many. It'll save us a bundle of time that I could otherwise be using to inject crushed up vicodin into my eyes." That explains why Steve and Tanya have looks of sheer determination on their faces, as if to say, "Just get through this, then you can go about the business of making sure no one you know ever sees this godawful movie," and why Damien seems to be thinking, "Wait, how did I get roped into doing this again? Is someone ever going to give me a script? Oh, I hope, I hope they never figure out that none of us know how to act!" Master Jack sits his students down a gives them a stern talk about the Stingers, a gang that supposedly "controls all manner of illegal activities," despite having all of four members, three of whom are completely incompetent and one of whom is expecting his testicles to descend sometime in the next few years. The gang is led by the mysterious Cobra Khan. And just like magic, the scene cuts to the Stingers in action.
This is either a recipe for tragedy or hilarity, depending on how you look at it.
In this scene, the Stingers seem numerous. I don't know why seventy-five percent of the gang members in this scene never appear again, but also, I don't care. The gang members stand around outside a convenience store, talking and carrying on. I guess loitering is just one of the "illegal activities" they control. A fat black man in a blue shirt with huge hair and a crutch that he apparently carries purely for aesthetic reasons, since he moves just fine without it, comes out of the store and is immediately put into a headlock by a gang member named Slag. Slag tells him that this is what he gets for defying Cobra Khan. Frankly, if an obese black man with the fashion sense of a fumigation tent and who hasn't had a haircut since the first Reagan administration is in a position to betray him, I have to wonder just how powerful of a crime lord this Cobra Khan is. But my questions are silenced as The C-to-the-K himself appears to settle Fat Black Guy's hash once and for all, and it turns out that he's played by none other than Robert motherfucking Z'Dar! Can you believe it? I know you're wondering how they ever managed to get a guy like him, star of such films as "Samurai Cop" and "Zombiegeddon," to do a movie like this.
The answer, I'm afraid, is by giving him top billing and only forcing him to be in two scenes. They talk about him a lot for the rest of the movie, but he only appears once again, and sadly, this is the more dignified of the two appearances. Cobra Khan takes over for Slag by holding the black guy's crutch up against his throat. Slag hands him a lit road flare, but we never find out what sort of nefarious road-lighting related mischief he has cooked up for it, as just then, justice arrives! Justice, as it would happen, takes the form of a guy dressed in an entirely black sweatsuit and wearing a hideous, somewhat-Japanese looking mask with clown-like tufts of white hair coming off of it. As Jack and the kids talk about an enigmatic freak called the White Dragon who has been spotted beating up crooks lately, the masked man (hint: it's the White Dragon) beats up the entire gang using the dual powers of Really Slow, Awkward Fight Choreography and Annoyingly Loud, Inappropriate Sound Effects.
Go ninja go ninja go!
Jack explains that an ancient group called the Dragons created masks that would enhance the martial prowess of the wearer. The masks has been handed down to him, and he says that he must now pass them on to a new generation. Tanya looks around from side to side, and back again, before finally spitting out, "You mean... us?" Good deductive reasoning there, Tanya. There's no one else there. This guy doesn't even have any other fucking students. Yeah, chances are he means you. You're going to be a regular Sherlock Holmes someday. Jack begins the holy bequeathing ceremony, which involves him stripping to the waist and doing Tai Chi while the three kids sit there and enjoy the benefits of a combination of backlighting and a fog machine. All they have to do is sit there and watch Jack, as he performs his motions intently, but of course, they can't handle that. They can't even manage to sit still long enough for Dave Eddy to get one shot that he can use over and over again, as is his way. So instead there are multiple shots of the three of them sitting there, fidgeting like the mats they're on are filled with fire ants. At last, Jack gives them each the mask which is most appropriate to them.
For her supposedly remarkable agility, Tanya receives the gold mask, which looks just like the moronic white mask the White Dragon was wearing, only it has yellow clown hair. Steve receives the black mask, because he is such a trickster. "Trickster," in this case, should be taken to mean "annoying little butter sponge who doesn't know when to shut up." Damien receives the red mask, because he has "inner demons." He sure does. You can see the internal conflict written on his face. Oh wait, no. That's not conflict. That's that other thing... ah yes, "nothing." My mistake. Jack also declares him the leader, because you definitely want the guy with crippling emotional problems to be responsible for leading your superhero team. Fortunately for these young warriors, Damien never even attempts to do anything remotely close to leading. And with that, they begin their new, super training. It's worth mentioning that everything that has happened thus far in the movie has taken place within the span of the opening credits. This is because Dave Eddy introduced a new, progressive style of credits, in which he switches to a black screen with a single credit on it every twenty seconds or so. It's also known as the "We don't even have enough stock footage or bearable music to assemble a decent opening credits sequence" technique.
I hate life. Not just mine, either.
Naturally, since there's new training afoot, it requires a new training montage. This time, the kids are all dressed in black and wearing their masks, so as to give the training the feel of a circus from the lowest levels of Hell. The same few shots of the three of them doing their best to kick in unison and each twirling some weapons around, clearly afraid of hurting themselves are repeated over and over for a full minute and a half over a rousing score of what I can only assume is a squirrel running around on the keys of a cheap synthesizer. After just one montage, the trio is now ready to hit the streets and stop those dastardly Stingers. They encounter Slag and two other Stingers in the process of mugging a young couple. And when I say "encounter," I mean, "slowly approach on rollerblades." See, Mark Williams, the writer of this movie, is both "hip" and also "with it." He knows how kids talk. He also knows what cool new fads kids are into, such as these kooky in-line skating contraptions. Now this is a movie for kids, by kids! Yeah!
The Stingers immediately disregard their victims to deal with the new, albeit slowly approaching, threat presented by these three kids in stupid masks and rollerblades. Since it's three on three, naturally the two sides have to line up and attack in perfect synchronicity with one another. Only the fiercest gangs have what it takes to fight like the cast of The Nutcracker. And of course, the entire thing is done over synthesizer music that sounds like something 1982 threw up after a night of binge drinking. The kids show off the super powers granted to them by their masks, such as the power to duck under incredibly slow punches and the power to hit stationary objects. Truly, they are far beyond the limits of human potential! Nonetheless, their fists and rollerblades of fury aren't enough. Steve breaks out a pair of nunchucks, although God knocks from where, since it really doesn't look like those sweatsuits come with any storage space. He swings them around, accompanied by a short whipping sound played on loop, which sadly goes on for about a second longer than the nunchucks themselves. Presumably, Steve was just using his awesome power to whip the nunchucks around so fast that the sound had to take a second to catch up with the image. Or alternately, this movie was made by a team with the collective IQ of a raspberry danish. At last, the kids pummel the gang into running away. While they take off, the kids clearly don't know what to do with themselves, so they just stand there, fidgeting behind their masks. And let me tell you, if there's anything worse than watching these kids run around in masks as ridiculous as these, it's hearing them talk while wearing them. It's not their fault, though. There's no way to make the line "Aw, buttwhiff" sound any better than it is.
I didn't know that criminal masterminds came in fun size! Hey, you learn something new every day!
The Stingers return to their master to report of the new Dragons on the scene. Sadly, their master is no longer Cobra Khan. It's Cubby Khan, his son. It's Cubby Khan, his son. I know I just said that, but I thought you needed to see the words "Cubby Khan" again to really get the effect. Cubby looks like he's maybe twelve years old, and to make matters worse, he wears a shirt that is roughly forty sizes to big for him. I'm sure Dave Eddy is going for comic effect, but believe me, there's nothing funny about it. It's a bunch of grown men and women taking orders from a little kid. With the camera up close on their faces, you can actually see the actors' dignity slipping away.
Sadly, things go steadily downhill from here. Cubby Khan insists that they all train to defeat the Dragons, so now the bad guys get their own training montage. To his credit, young Cubby has clearly had some martial arts training. He's faster and more disciplined than any of the adult actors. Unfortunately, that doesn't help, because he's still just a little kid, and during the montage he's flanked by two big guys who look like they're about to fall asleep. I actually feel sorry for them, watching them have to tone down their skills so much that this little boy looks like Bruce Lee in comparison. It doesn't help that the cheesy score provides them with music that would be more suitable for a montage about, oh, tandem bike riding and picnicking on the quad. It's a full three minutes of Cubby Khan teaching his two beefy henchmen a thing or two about combat through agonizingly slow martial arts in which every move is telegraphed horribly so that Cubby can remember where he is supposed to block in order to make himself look good. At one point, the two henchmen are so tired of getting their asses gradually kicked that they stop fighting a try distracting Cubby by disco dancing. No, really. They fucking disco at him. In the middle of a fighting montage. And these are the bad guys. If only I could sell the bile that rises in my throat every time I see this scene. I'd be a millionaire, and then I could hire someone to hunt down Dave Eddy and kick him in the groin until he pees out his nostrils. Ah, to dream.
Are you concerned that you may be a character trapped in a Tom Waits song? Be smart and learn the warning signs before it's too late. Also, it's too late. It has always been too late.
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