Ninja Assassin

November 27, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

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.

Changeling

October 30, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Jeffrey Donovan
Directed by: Clint Eastwood (“Million Dollar Baby”)
Written by: J. Michael Straczynski (TV’s “Babylon 5”)

While truth may be stranger than fiction, it’s not always a wise decision for a screenwriter to choose to include events of a true story that, although accurate, seem all too tactless and build up to oddly written scenes. As a period piece set in 1928, “Changeling” is beautifully shot frame by frame and well directed by Clint Eastwood. As a dramatic suspense thriller, however, the problems lie in J. Michael Straczynski’s overambitious script.

“Changeling” begins when Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie), a single mother working at a phone company, comes home to find her young son Walter (Gattlin Griffith) is missing. Turning to a corrupt LAPD, who is trying to improve their tarnished image with its citizens, Christine is speechless when Capt. J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan) tells her that her son has been found. The problem with that statement, however, is that the boy Capt. Jones presents to Christine is not her son, but another kid who insists his name is Walter Collins and that Christine is, in fact, his mother.

Feeling forced by Capt. Jones to take the boy “home on a trial basis,” which is a funny enough idea until Christine actually does it, Jones tells the worried mother that she doesn’t recognize her own son only because she is shocked to see him after a few months. While at home, however, Christine realizes the young stranger now living with her is three inches shorter than her son and is circumcised, unlike Walter. Her proof isn’t good enough for the LAPD, however, as Capt. Jones has accepted all the praise from the local media, and closed the case.

When Christine continues to ask questions and wonder why the police force would try to hide their mistake, she is tossed into a mental hospital for evaluation, a move made only to silence her from embarrassing the police department’s shoddy detective work.

By this time, Christine has already built her case against the LAPD with support from an number of people including Walter’s teacher and doctor, who said they would testify on her behalf that the boy brought to her is not her son. Help is also offered by Rev. Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich), who mission in life is to uncover the criminal actions of the LAPD, and broadcast them on his local radio show.

While it all makes for an interesting episode of “The Twilight Zone,” screenwriter Straczynski drops the ball on behalf of Jolie’s time onscreen. By the halfway point, his choice to do this becomes exhausting especially when a lot of loose ends aren’t tied up. As this is happening, the story hits a fork in the road and causes more distractions before its 140-minute runtime is over.