Enter the Ninja – 1981

Director Menahem Golan
Screenplay Dick Desmond, Mike Stone
Starring Franco Nero, Susan George, Sho Kosugi, Alex Courtney, Will Hare, Zachi Noy, Constantin de Goguel, Dale Ishimoto, Christopher George

I know next to nothing about what makes a good ninja, but I have a decent idea what makes a good film. After seeing Enter The Ninja, I still don’t know much about the subject of the title. This movie shows me nothing believable or even graceful about what ninjas. If I had never seen a good film before this, I would know nothing about that, either. In fact, I may have unlearned a few things just by watching the incredibly off center camera work.

Conceived as a vehicle to show the talents of stuntman Mike Stone, it took a turn when it became clear Stone couldn’t act. Enter Nero, who could present in front of a camera, even if he had little martial arts knowledge. This was remedied by putting Nero’s character, Cole. in his ninja outfit or turning his back to the camera while fighting.

Cannon films co-owner Golan took on the film, so the production inherited the characteristics of the media monster that created so many awful films during the decade. This is just another one in that incredibly long line.

The premise to the story, Cole is a stranger to Manila, Phillipines, after passing his ninjutsu course in Japan. He does this through an incredibly bland series of maneuvers that could be better performed by me and my two daughters in our back yard. One of the fellow students, Hasagawa takes exception at the idea of a non-traditional (read: white) master of the art of ninja. Since the movie is just starting though, we need to shelve that for now.

In Manilla, Cole encounters his old war buddy Frank (Courtney) from some war in Angola years back when they looked the same age, but with fatigues on. He has a meet cute with Frank’s wife (Susan George), who points a gun at him until he disarms her and, essentially, feels her up.

As he gets even more familiar with her, she begins to like him, of course. Frank’s been a useless drunk who “can’t get it up” since thugs hired by Charles Venarius (Christopher George) started trying to force them to sell.

Cole, being a ninja, starts to go Billy Jack on these incredibly lame thugs, working his way up the ladder until he and Frank get a meeting with one of the boss henchmen (de Goguel), Mr. Parker. If you need to guess what happens next, you haven’t seen any other film made since John Wayne started acting.

Several of the actors involved, including both Georges, Courtney and Nero, have been in better stuff. Here, they work down to the quality of the other actors, who are tantamount to walkons. The English language is a challenge for most of the actors outside of these four. It can’t be overstated how little the filmmakers both in front and behind the camera, understand how humans interact.

Is this a film of its time? Yes, in that it plays like a bad episode of Magnum P.I. or a good episode of The A-Team. Sexism is taken for granted, and horrific death has an equal chance of being followed closely by a “wah-wah-wawawawawaaaa” sound or a wink from Cole in lame attempts to add levity. Seeing this film helps put the success of stunt man turned director Hal Needham. A different time that could almost be seen as the dark ages.

One could assume this film might be enjoyable at the time when nothing else was on and you just wanted to see a couple of poorly staged fights. What is a shame is the camera doesn’t seem to understand that Kosugi is actually a superior artist in sever forms of Japanese martial arts. Fortunately this didn’t put a damper on what turned out to be a pretty good career in acting and fight choreography. My personal highlight is his work on Blind Fury.

This film is enjoyable in the era of MSTK3000 where couch potatoes like this reviewer sit back and enjoy the sheer boredom exhibited by the cast and crew as they amble through their scenes. You can almost see some of the many future victims of Cole and Hasagawa nervously looking around and wondering if they’re actually going to get paid for taking a few awkward hits and letting fake blood cover them as they fall.

From the quality of the work they put out with a 1.5 million dollar budget, it’s a wonder that the money didn’t end up being shipped down to Columbia, via Miami. Following that path might have made a better film, but it may not have been as enjoyable.

(0 out of *****)

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