Ninja Assassin

Regan-era throwback still offers gobs of ass-kicking frolic and head-splitting fun

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Nothing says the holidays quite like the sight of pseudo-mystic, pajama-clad killers slicing through goons as if they were plump, juicy Butterballs. And if you're like me you've been wondering just when the heck we were going to get the latest, greatest ninjas vs. Swat Team classic hot off the Hollywood assembly line. 

This absurd genre was briefly all the rage in the late '80s, when every suburban kid itched to put their friends' and neighbors' eyes out with those neat-o throwing stars. Though its computer-rendered gore explosions are a good deal more detailed than the blood squibs of yore, in every other sense Ninja Assassin is a Reagan-decade throwback, down to the masterstroke of casting genre icon Sho Kosugi as the heavy. 

We open with a gang of belligerent modern-day yakuza punks getting tattooed by an old man who caught a glimpse of a ninja in action about 50 years ago, and is still so spooked that the very word gives him the heebie-jeebies. Moments later, his fears prove founded when a ninja zips in, repaints the room blood-red and hacks a thug's head in two. Yow!

Nothing else in this giddily silly action mess matches the gonzo excitement of that first bit, but there's plenty of dumb fun. The plot concerns a pair of bland Interpol dolts dedicated to tracking down and stopping these elusive ninja clans, who serve as an elite murder cabal, offing anyone for the low fee of 100 pounds of gold. The cops get a major assist from charismatic renegade ninja Raizo (played sleekly by a J-pop singer Rain), who's out for revenge against his evil former master. Wachowski brothers protégé James McTeigue (V for Vendetta) stages the fight scenes behind enough smoke, water and strobe lights to choke out a Madonna video, but still delivers all the bloodthirsty comic-book thrills you'd expect.

Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

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