Starring: Rain, Naomie Harris, Ben Miles
Directed by: James McTeigue (“V for Vendetta”)
Written by: J. Michael Straczynski (“Changeling”) and Matthew Sand (debut)
Previews for the action movie “Ninja Assassin” could have easily been shown during the middle of the night when the only things on TV are infomercials for kitchen utensils like the Slap Chop or Veg-o-Matic. They all slice and dice, but don’t do much else of anything.
In “Ninja Assassin,” Korean pop artist Rain plays Raizo, a rogue ninja who makes it his mission to bring down his former clan as they dart through Europe on a murderous rampage. He teams up with Mika (Naomie Harris), a Europol forensic researcher (because we all need one of those on our side), who has always known there was a secret society of ninjas running amok and assassinating political leaders.
Driven by his blood vendetta, Raizo wants his former master Ozunu (Sho Kosugi) to feel the same pain he experienced while under his training at the ninja academy. Through awkward and confusing flashbacks, we watch Ozunu mold his army of youngsters to be fearless killers. “Pain breeds weakness,” he tells his students, all of whom are orphans he’s handpicked for his own selfish reasons. There’s also a standard love story between a young Raizo (Joon Lee) and Kiriko (Anna Sawai), a female ninja-in-training who is less tolerant of the ninja way.
Besides the uninteresting background story and the superfluous one featuring Mika and her Europol partner Maslow (Ben Miles) who follow the trail of ninja body parts and miraculously dodge every throwing star hurled in their direction, “Ninja Assassin” is a CGI-heavy bloodbath that wears out its welcome after a while.
The action takes over in the opening scene as we watch Raizo hack off limbs and cut bodies in two from various angles. Sure, a typical decapitation with a sword is always good for a thrill-seeking audience, but what about a chain with a crescent blade at the end of it slicing a human from shoulder to hip? Still, the special effects become all too comical after enough chucks of flesh hit the ground.
Unlike something as stylistic and uproarious as the massively-cast action sequences with the Crazy 88’s of “Kill Bill: Vol. 1” or those of Bruce Lee’s many contributions to the martial arts genre, “Ninja Assassin” is a cliché-ridden throwback that lacks a cohesive story and always bends toward predictability.
It’s surprising that director James McTeigue, who did quite well behind the camera on “V for Vendetta,” played this one as routinely as he did. Didn’t he know that once you’ve seen one master-versus-student final battle in a burning dojo, you’ve seen them all? With “Ninja Assassin,” a shadowy warrior might be the reason the body count is so high, but it is McTeigue and his screenwriters that have slaughtered everything else that makes these types of movie so fun to watch.