What I Knew Going In / What I Was Expecting
All I know for sure is that this movie falls into the long lost subgenre of action movie involving white people doing martial arts and misappropriating tools of warfare and self defense as some kind of metaphor for discipline and inner peace. Sounds about right, doesn't it? It's just like an American to think of a punch to the face as a sign of enlightenment.
Anyway, I'm not expecting much except for a guy with bad hair to slowly reenact poorly choreographed fight sequences with the same three stunt guys who, thanks to their full-body costumes, can reappear in multiple scenes as different characters.
My big question is: is it the American Ninja, or an American Ninja? Because if it's just an American Ninja, then this will probably stand on its own. But if it's the American Ninja, I'm thinking there may be some interesting back story I missed. I bet it involves vengeance.
Let's say this one is going to be about American Ninja's arch-rival getting revenge for somebody who American Ninja killed in Part II.
The Plot Summary
...I'm really not sure.
I have to be honest, I couldn't really follow most of this. It just got progressively dumber and dumber until I wasn't sure how much was being explicitly stated versus what was actually happening. But I think it goes like this:
Sean, a white guy who likes karate, sees his father, a karate enthusiast, get killed. Then he dedicates his life to studying ninjitsu, which is not actually karate, but close enough for a white guy. He gets really good at being a ninja despite the fact that he makes himself really obvious and advertises his ninja skill, which you'd think is one of the first things you learn not to do when your career is supposed to be based on subterfuge and cunning.
Anyway, Sean enters a martial arts competition of some sort. Naturally. Because every fucking martial arts movie with a white guy ends up having to revolve around some kind of tournament. Is this the only way white people - specifically Americans - can view the world? Jet Li and Jackie Chan make movies about using kung fu to rebel against tyrannical overlords and/or to quell rebellious punks while honoring thousands of years of culture and paying respect to their elders, but when a white guy knows how to punch really hard, the first thing he thinks is, "Better get a trophy to prove it." Goddammit guys, find a new fucking plot.
Anyway, Sean enters a contest of some sort.
But it turns out the contest is actually part of a nefarious scheme cooked up by Cobra, the movie's central antagonist. Cobra is a bio-weapons developer who wants to sell a new manmade disease to a terrorist cell, but they won't buy it unless he can prove how effective his stuff is. The way he decides to go about doing exactly that is to demonstrate how well it destroys a "strong specimen," which in this case would be the winner of a karate tournament. What a dumb plot.
So, Sean is unwittingly playing into Cobra's hand. Fortunately for him, he has two friends in the form of Jackson, a black dude who ends up getting all the best action scenes and who is way more charismatic and enjoyable to watch than anybody else in the cast, and Wiener, some other white guy. (I'm sure his name isn't actually Wiener, but sometimes you just call 'em like you see 'em.)
For about forty minutes, Jackson does cool shit while Sean and Wiener hang out. Then Cobra manages to capture Sean through a bunch of bullshit that I'm not even going to try to explain since it would somehow make less sense written out than it did in the goddamn movie. Cobra injects Sean with the disease and he becomes frail and weak. For a moment, all seems lost until Chan, Cobra's sexy assistant, decides to help out. (She does so because Sean's a ninja and I guess there's a ninja code that says you help a brother out.)
Chan helps Jackson and Wiener break into Cobra's compound in order to save Sean. Wiener dies almost immediately - oh well - and then Jackson does all the work to get an antidote to save Sean's life. Cobra kills Chan unceremoniously, and then Sean uses ninja strength to kill the disease, thus precluding the need for an antidote. Then Sean uses ninja rage to kill Cobra.
Sean and Jackson walk off into the sunset / nearest hallway, and the credits roll while you wonder if Jackson is going to get his own movie.
What I Liked
If you'll forgive the snark above, this is a pretty fun movie at times.
It's incredibly stupid, but what American Ninja III lacks in logic, it makes up for with ridiculous set pieces. It's not really a movie so much as it is an excuse to use / show off miscellaneous spare props and sets the producers had laying around.
For example: there's a five-minute sequence in which Sean and Wiener break into a shed to steal a couple of gliders, fly them around, deal with a fuel leak, and then land one of the gliders on the back of a speeding pickup truck that's being driven by Jackson. The only reason this sequence exists at all is to justify how Sean manages to sneak into Cobra's compound, but at some point in making the film, the producers said, "Wouldn't it be cool if somebody parked one of these on a pickup?" So they did.
You kinda have to imagine that's how most of the filming process went. "Wouldn't it be cool if?" led to 80% of the script.
Sometimes this stuff becomes a non sequitur, like the final scene where Sean and Cobra are about to fight. The scene takes places in Cobra's Evil Lab, in which he has five statues of ailing men (or possibly actual ailing men who were paid to stand there and look stoic all day). Cobra flips a little switch on a podium, and the lights quickly blink out and then come back. When the room is lit up again, the statues have transformed into five Super Ninjas in red uniforms.
Go ahead. Just try to explain the logistics of that. Cobra's got five assholes sitting inside little trap doors underneath his shitty statues who just wait, day-in, day-out to hear The Signal to jump up and attack. Needless to say, Sean kills them all within two minutes flat, which is to be expected - if the ace up your sleeve is five guys who have fallen out of practice because they've been sitting around without anything to do for weeks on end, then of course they're all going to die instantly.
There's so much inanity, you can't help but smile. Hell, the entire crux of the third act is that all of Sean's friends need to team up in order to get an antidote for the disease Sean's been infected with, and he ends up not even needing it because he just "fixes" himself by meditating for a couple of seconds. When Jackson shows up and gives him the antidote, Sean callously tosses it away and the two of them just laugh - despite the fact that two of their friends died trying to get that for him. Don't be a dick, Sean. Take the antidote and pretend to feel better.
To top it all off, the movie has one of the best credit rolls I've seen in awhile: an army of third-world country soldiers do battle with an army of ninjas as '80s muscle-head rock plays, with lyrics about how "Cobra will strike." It's like it was constructed in a lab by experts on how to appeal to hipsters with blogs.
What I Didn't Like
As much fun as it is, the movie's also kind of tedious. Very little of it makes any sense and it lacks any form of cohesion, so there were a ton of moments where I found myself checking the time to see how much was left. That's never a good sign.
You could honestly shuffle the DVD chapters of this movie and watch it out of order and you'd get the same experience. Things technically have a cause-and-effect relationship with each other, but you'd be hard-pressed to identify it.
I'm also kind of bitter that the movie showed sharks during one scene, then cut away and never showed sharks again. I was excited about the prospect of shark ninjitsu, and it just didn't pay off.
Would I Recommend It?
Lightly, yes. It's fun, but there's plenty of dumb action movies out there to whet your appetite - even if said appetite is for stupid ninja movies. Honestly, dumb ninja movies are kind of interchangeable, so if it's not this one, it'll be another.
Still, this one had some good action scenes, and that's worth a recommendation.
What I Think the Prequels Were About
I'm going to guess that Part 1 was about Sean avenging his dad's murder. And then Part II was about... oh, I don't know, drugs or something. Like a horrible Colombian drug overlord was threatening Sean's family, so he went on a rampage through South America.
My Pitch for the Next One
You know, I should really watch Black Dynamite again.