2009 | Director: James McTeigue | Writers: Matthew Sand and J. Michael Straczynski (“Murder She Wrote,” “Babylon 5”)
It turns out that the title “Ninja Assassin” refers not to the protagonist being a rather redundant ninja who also happens to be an assassin, but, more accurately, to his occupation as an assassin of ninjas. Knowing that makes the otherwise-bland title more interesting, but my having been girded with that knowledge beforehand didn’t make the movie any less shockingly boring–due in part to the filmmakers’ dubious decision to cover the screen in CGI blood. Sadly, the fake gore took me out of the illusion that I was watching a documentary on the mass murder of hundreds of real-life ninjas. Call me a purist.
Asian megastar Rain–Korea’s version of, I don’t know, Morgan Freeman–stars as Raizu, an ex-ninja who seeks satisfaction from his own Ozunu clan for their honor-required execution of his forbidden love. Together with two of the most forgettable Europol agents of all time, Raizu quests to settle his differences with the clan, and in the most dignified and diplomatic of ways: by murdering them. Of course, there are pitfalls in his path–that old rascal Lord Ozunu himself won’t go gentle into that good night, and there are dozens of minutes’ worth of flashbacks waiting to trip up the stone-faced killer at every turn. Luckily, the scenes are so dark and shadowy that the audience can’t see Raizu at all, so how are his mortal enemies supposed to sniff him out?
Though his lifeless story alone is enough to provoke drowsiness, the director of “Ninja Assassin,” James McTeigue (“V for Vendetta”), throws a little extra tryptophan into the mix with his inclusion of several dull talks between agents White Guy and Black Girl, the pair of Europol detectives who, for really stupid reasons that set most of the film in Germany, serve as audience surrogates. Together they knit brows and mull over every plot point, taking great care to continuously point out how ludicrous it is that they’re dealing with ninjas, of all people.
But worse yet is the film’s action, which, though endlessly gory, is presented in a criminally repetitive and unwatchable sequence of pitch-black fights in which Raizu spins his special chain-with-a-knife-on-it-thing in circles and chops all the oncoming ninjas’ legs and heads off, causing thousands of gallons of neon red blood to explode from their wounds. (Apparently ninjas have extremely high blood pressure.) It’s a testament to the ineptitude of the cast and crew that any film with this high a death toll could end up so boring. Considering its underwhelming name as a jumping-off point, “Ninja Assassin” isn’t really a disappointment, but it’s about as far from entertaining as an action film can get.
Rating: One and a Half of Five Stars