Archive for the Steve James Category

Review: American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt (1989)

Posted in David Bradley, Mike Stone, Reviews, Steve James with tags , , on December 30, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Starring David Bradley, Steve James

Fight Choreography by Mike Stone

Directed by Cedric Sundstrom

“Aw, not these guys again. Why can’t it be terrorists?”

Those words were uttered by Curtis Jackson (James), now out of the military and attending a martial arts tournament in the Caribbean who once again finds himself fighting off ninjas to defeat them from yet another stab at genetically engineering the perfect ninja. In the last film they defeated the Lion, and now they face the Cobra. However, this time Jackson’s not teaming up with his old buddy Joe Armstrong (American Ninja 1 and 2’s Michael Dudikoff) but a new guy named Sean Davidson (Bradley), a karate champion who has a Bruce Wayne/Peter Parker-style origin after watching his dad getting gunned down while trying to stop a robbery at a martial arts tournament. His dad learned that while a Gi is very good, it can’t stop a bullet, or in this case about ten.

Jackson and Sean find themselves competing in the tournament, and Jackson knows Sean by reputation, and both become friends quickly, and are unfortunately saddled with a goofy sidekick who hangs around most of the film before he meets face to face with a high-speed arrow. Until then, we all have to suffer this jackass. Look for Mike Stone in a cameo as the tournament referee. Sean soon follows a group of hired cannon fodder who are seen-in the brightness of day-kidnapping a martial artist and hauling his ass away to a hotel, where Sean beats his way to the martial artist, who turns out to be his Master Izumo. The first fights here are better than anything that Michael Dudikoff did in his previous films, mostly because David Bradley is an actual martial artist, which does improve things from a choreography standpoint.

Sean gets Jackson and sidekick involved, and together they face a lead ninja more complicated than any of the others, a female ninja named Chan Lee. She’s a master of disguise, and unlike the ninja baddies in the previous films is duped into believing that the Cobra is doing everything for the right reasons. How she can conclude this when the guy she works for is called “the Cobra” is beyond me, but perhaps that’s a mild name where she comes from. Perhaps she was fooled by the white suit.

Soon Sean, Chan, Jackson and numbnuts lead an assault on the headquarters of the Cobra for one last showdown to stop him from not only creating the perfect ninja, but to stop a virus he hopes to unleash on the world, which evidently can be expelled from the body by extreme ninja concentration, which Sean pulls off in a scene that is laugh out loud horrible.

Where to begin? Let’s start with the strength of the previous films, Steve James. As I’ve said before, he’s a great martial artists and does the best acting jobs of anyone in these films, but this time his character seemed a lot more serious and subdued, not the talking-shit-as-he-kicks-ninja-ass-coolness we’ve come to expect from his character. He has one funny line, but except for that he’s practically muted.

David Bradley does a passable but not great acting job here, but his martial arts skills are apparent, as the choreography is better than in any previous film, but even here is feels a bit tired, as if Mike Stone was getting bored with his own job. The camera work doesn’t help, as it may be the most bland camera work of any of the American Ninja films. Once again we’re treated to a ninja played by someone who doesn’t know any martial arts, and in this film that’s the character of Chan Lee. Quick cuts and edits try to mask it, but it’s incredibly obvious.

The previous films also had a sidekick to Jackson and Armstrong, but this sidekick is annoying as hell. I mean Rob Schneider annoying. Note that after he gets killed, his death doesn’t register with a single character, as if he was never there. I would question the writers on why even have his character there if he makes no real emotional impact even in death.

Unlike the previous American Ninja films, this one is missing one very important ingredient: fun. And that’s what makes it the worst entry so far.

(Out of scale of 1-10, 10 being the best)

CHOREOGRAPHY: (5) All in the all the fight scenes were better here than in previous films, but the shitty camera work sinks so much of it down that it makes that practically moot, and you can tell that Mike Stone is getting tired of this series.

STUNTS: (1) Not even worth mentioning. And you know that’s bad.

STAR POWER: (4) A subdued Steve James is better than no James at all, and David Bradley does an okay job, and will do better in his future films.

FINAL GRADE: (3) It’s obvious they tried to make a more serious film for a series that doesn’t deserve one. By removing the goofy fun, they’ve made a goofy, shitty movie. A waste of time and talent for those involved. What’s even worse is that this is Steve James’ last film in this series. He deserved a better exit than this.

NEXT: Scott Adkins is the Ninja!


Review: American Ninja 2: The Confrontation (1987)

Posted in Michael Dudikoff, Mike Stone, Reviews, Steve James with tags , , on December 21, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, Mike Stone

Fight Choreography by Mike Stone

Directed by Sam Firstenberg

Theyyyy’rrrreeee baaaaaaack! The American military find themselves owned by ninjas and once again need the help of Joe Armstrong (Dudikoff) and his sidekick Curtis Jackson (James). They find themselves transferred to an island in the Caribbean when several U.S. Marines are kidnapped and no one has a clue who’s doing it (answer: ninjas).

Joe and Curtis arrive to the island to find that the marines lead a very laid back lifestyle, wearing cabana shirts and drinking mohitos on the beach instead of shooting something. Soon they find themselves patrolling the nearby islands with some marines, one of which was a marine named Taylor that has lured the others into the arms of the ninjas. Joe’s bullshit detector is on full and he senses that this guy is a douche, and confirms as much when Taylor pulls the plug on the boat, faking it to be disabled, and Joe checks for himself after the others go swimming and finds that indeed Taylor was fill of shit, and before Joe can let everyone know, the ninjas decide to attack. One thing has to be said about the American Ninja films, these ninjas like to attack in the daylight, still wearing their black ninja uniforms. In the hot sun of the Caribbean. Because that makes hella sense. Anyway, the ninjas attack, but never fear, they have no chance of beating Joe or Curtis, not because they are so good—actually Curtis is the best in this film—but because these ninjas are like keystone cops. Half the damn time they wind up killing each other will ill-timed sword slices and arrow launches. The fight here kinda sucks because none of the sword cuts look remotely real. You can actually tell they are swiping at the air! Dudikoff does a better job than in his fight scenes in the previous film, but Steve James really goes all out. Curtis is a more interesting character than Joe Armstrong because of the energy and badassness that James brings to the part, not to mention his abilities as a real martial artist.

After the attempt to kill Joe and Curtis fails, Taylor lures Joe to a bar called the Blind Beggar, where the other soldiers were kidnapped, and Joe gets jumped by a group of thugs, one of which is played by Friday the 13th killer Jason Vorhees, Kane Hodder. Joe beats them up in a pretty good scene and then has to face them again in Taylor’s room before Joe confronts Taylor, who is about to spill the beans when he walks into a ninja spear. It’s here where we find out about a supercriminal named the Lion who is harvesting the DNA of the marines in an attempt to create genetically engineered ninjas, and sell their services to the highest bidder.

After Taylor is killed Joe and company attend a ambassador’s luncheon, where a strange woman interrupts the proceedings, accusing the Lion, who happens to be there, of drug dealing, which is true, so of course no one believes her. Joe and his boys follow Lion’s men, who take her away, right back to the Blind Beggar bar. Joe and his crew get attacked by the same men as before and a fun fight ensues, thanks in large part to the shit talking that Curtis gives throughout the entire brawl scenes. It is here we really meet the lead ninja Tojo, placed by martial artist and fight choreographer Mike Stone. During the fight the girl gets away again, but Joe goes after her alone, and finds her, but the ninjas find them both, and a good, but very,  very cheesy ninja fight happens here, but you can see that Dudikoff has learned a lot since the previous film as his fighting style has a much better form, and his speed has increased. Of course it is here that we meet fucking ninja Terminator. Joe and the girl get into a truck along with a kid who is helping Joe get around town, and this ninja first jumps in the bed of the truck and fights Joe, gets thrown off of the truck, throws a chain and connects, and instantly wonders about the folly of doing this as he is drug for a few miles over dirt and pavement, and then flies over the truck as Joe stops, hangs on to the front like Indiana Jones, and they kill his overachieving ass by jumping out of the truck and letting it rocket him into a gas station that finally blows the ninja up. I have to wonder who the hell was this ninja? Why wasn’t he the main villain? This was a flunky with aspirations of being a lead henchman, dashed by a 1976 Chevy and a shit-ton of gasoline. Damn that Joe Armstrong! Soon Joe and Curtis, and a whole lot of marines find the base of the Lion, and lead and attack to stop his plan once and for all…

Is it possible to be even sillier than the previous film? Apparently the answer is yes. The plot is ludicrous by itself, and the fights are both funny and pretty bad, except for the stars themselves. Michael Dudikoff remains a blank slate acting wise, but his fight scenes are much better than in the previous film. Mike Stone does a great job as Tojo, not saying much but displaying a lot of menace, and at least he stays real for the most part, not having any shit like laser sleeves or flamethrowers wrists like the villain in the previous film.

Steve James is really the gem of the film here. He brings great energy and a load of fun every time he appears on-screen, and I loved when he pulled out the Butterfly Swords and went to town on some ninjas toward the end of the film. Yeah, he would’ve stolen the film from Michael Dudikoff if Michael hadn’t been content to share it with him. What really hurts this film, but also adds to the fun in its own way, is that the acting of the stuntmen is horrid. It’s like none of them went to death-acting school. Every action scene is full of henchmen and ninjas who die in the most horrendously acted moments not seen since early Roger Corman films. Bland direction by Sam Firstenberg doesn’t help matters any as well, but what the hell, Cannon films loved the guy, so he must be doing something right I’m not seeing.

Favorite scene that sums it all up: After a cheesy fight in which Curtis breaks the neck of a ninja Bruce Lee-stomp style he walks away, and the ninja tries to get up, and Curtis turns and yells “Stay down!” and the ninja immediately dies. Fun stuff. You can tell that despite the production values and overall cheese of the film everyone had fun making it, and it shows.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best)

CHOREOGRAPHY: (7) Much better than the previous film. Maybe having Mike Stone also play the villian as well as the fight choreographer helped, and it’s obvious he had more time to work with Michael Dudikoff.

STUNTS: (2) The stuntmen did a horrible acting job, dying in hilariously bad acting scenes. You’ll laugh too much to notice anything else they did.

STAR POWER: (7) Michael Dudikoff returns as does Steve James, and this time they give James a lot more to do than in the previous film, allowing him to have entire action scenes by himself. That really made this movie a lot of fun.

FINAL GRADE: (7) Actually a film that was a lot more fun than the first, silly in its execution, but an improved Michael Dudikoff and more Steve James makes this a lot of fun. Just let your mind go and enjoy the silliness of it all!

Review: American Ninja (1985)

Posted in Michael Dudikoff, Reviews, Steve James, Tadashi Yamashita with tags , , on December 3, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, Tadashi Yamashita

Fight Choreography by Mike Stone

Directed by Sam Firstenberg

Back in 1985, America was made up of three things: Apple pie, Reaganomics, and Ninjas. This was the time when Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus ruled the world under the name of Cannon Films, which became the home of Chuck Norris and cheesy action flicks. During this time two kinds of films ruled the action roost: Anything with a guy running through Vietnam freeing guys still held captive there, and ninjas. Lots and lots of ninjas. The biggest series to come out of all that was American Ninja.

The story opens with the cheesiest music you’ve ever heard, right out of the A-Team. In fact, I think it actually was the A-Team soundtrack, but whatever. We meet Private Joe Armstrong (Dudikoff), who seem like an odd bird from the get go, not wanting to speak with..well, anyone.

He drives an escort in the Philippines for the daughter of his General, and before long the escort is ambushed by a group of thugs, and after a moment of pretending that yeah, he’s just content to stand there and get shot, he decides it’s NINJA TIME and unleashes level 1 ninja skills, punching and kicking the baddies aside, unaware that a group of ninjas, hidden in the trees and hill above are watching him. Yes, they are hiding among green trees in black uniforms, so of course they can’t be seen. I don’t think Michael Dudikoff knew any martial arts prior to the film, but he did pretty well for what was asked of him. (Since those films I know he’s been practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with the Gracie family) Unfortunately while Joe goes off to save the annoying general’s daughter, the rest of the military escorts jack up the remaining thugs, but wouldn’t you know it the ninjas jump in to kick some ass, and massacre the entire company. Joe and Patricia don’t notice this as they escape into the forest, pursued by ninjas. The scene would be fine if not for Patricia, who comes off as a typically vapid, pampered American girl that was also a prevalent stereotype of heroines during those Cannon years. He gets her back home, where her father gives Joe a lot of shit for fighting off the bad guys instead of standing his ground. The specific reasons why he’s so angry becomes apparent later.

Meanwhile, a conglomerate of bad guys are led by a dude named Senior Ortega, and you know he’s bad because he’s wearing a white suit with a pink tie, which means he’s evil incarnate. He shows off his lead ninja Black Star (Yamashita) who, in a typical show of how badass he is, kills one of his own trainees. Something tells me those guys don’t include insurance in their benefits package. Back at the base, we meet Curtis Jackson (James), the martial arts instructor on base (you know he’s black, because most action hero black sidekicks are named Jackson), challenges Joe to a fight, and this leads to a good scene of Jackson getting grappled and tossed about by Joe, who doesn’t really want to hurt Jackson, and after he admits defeat they form a friendship. Yes, ladies, it’s a guy thing. We just roll that way. We come to learn that Joe has lost his memory, and has these ninja skills but doesn’t know where they come from. Soon Joe becomes a target of Ortega, and Joe faces off with them in a warehouse attack that features a lot of ninja action, not badly done, and okay for American fight choreography. Joe follows the attackers back to their base and finds out who he really is and why he knows ninjitsu, and with the help of Jackson and a the US military, goes to stop Ortega once and for all, and face the Black Star Ninja and Ortega’s ninja army one last time…

This is all really silly. I mean jeez, during the last fight Black Star tries to kill Joe with a flamethrower in his sleeve, and a laser in his other sleeve! That’s not a ninja, that’s Master Chief! Yes, this movie drips pure cheese, but the best kind. So much of the 80’s is in this film, and came out at the height of the ninja craze that swept the United States at the time, even if most of the ninja scenes were just way off of what they were really like.

One scene I have to point out, because it’s my favorite for some reason, is when Jackson fights this big Asian guy toward the end of the film, and gives him a punch to disorient him, and then shows him his tiger claw hand, to his face, right before he uses it to grab the guy’s testicles and starts to crush them, shouting out “How do you like that? Them nuts!” It’s a crazy scene, but funny in all the right ways. It actually occurred to me a lot of guys get kicked in the nuts in this film, even one poor sod who was pretty much already beaten by Jackson, and takes one more to the family jewels for posterity.

All in all, it’s still good fun all these years later, and formed a snapshot of what many American action films were like during that era. And never fear, Joe Armstrong and Curtis Jackson will return…in American Ninja 2!

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best)

CHOREOGRAPHY: (5) Not great, but not horrible either. Michael Dudikoff acquited himself quite well, and Steve James is always fun to watch. It simply suffers from the American fight choreography of the day. I think it was actually better than, say, The Octagon with Chuck Norris.

STUNTS: (5) Some good overacted death scenes and reaction by some of these guys puts the “ee” in the cheese of this film.

STAR POWER: (6) Michael Dudikoff would go on to star in several more American Ninja films, and this is what he’s most famous for. Steve James did more of them also, and other films before dying too young at the age of 41 due to pancreatic cancer. He always played the sidekick to other stars, though he was the better martial artist in just about every film he did.

FINAL GRADE: (5) It’s an American ninja classic made during that period of time, and is cheesy fun, but not really a good martial arts film.