Friday, April 16, 2010

NINJA ASSASSIN

Director James McTeigue (V FOR VENDETTA) and producers Larry and Andy Wachowski (THE MATRIX), bring a big budget and full-bore CGI technology to the ninja flick with mixed results in NINJA ASSASSIN (2009).

The story is fairly standard: trained since childhood by the Ozuno ninja clan to be the ultimate killing machine, Raizo (Rain, SPEED RACER) has a crisis of conscience on his first assignment and goes rogue. When pretty Europol researcher Mika Coretti (Naomie Harris, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 2 &3) accidentally discovers the existence of the ninja clans, she is targeted for assassination, and only Raizo can protect her from his shadow-skulking brethren.

The screenplay by Matthew Sand and BABYLON 5's J. Michael Straczynski really doesn't offer much in the way of fresh ideas, but it does offer opportunities for copious carnage, rendered in loving, gruesome detail by director McTiegue and an army of computer animators. The movie is pretty much wall-to-wall action, with armies of super-powered ninjas and Europol (Is "Interpol" trademarked?) officers bloodily slaughtering each other for most of the film's running time. Fight scenes are reasonably well-staged, although much of the action is of the virtual variety, and awash in a spray of crimson pixels.

Acting is reasonably good - Korean popstar Rain is okay as the heroic Raizo, and Rick Yune (DIE ANOTHER DAY) is fine as his prime ninja adversary. The real casting coup though, is the participation of 80's ninja movie icon Sho Kosugi (REVENGE OF THE NINJA, PRAY FOR DEATH), making his first screen appearance in about a decade, as the badass Ozuno sensei. I also enjoyed seeing Ben Miles (the BBC's COUPLING) as Harris' Europol superior.

Warners brings NINJA ASSASSIN to DVD in a very basic, nearly bare-bones edition. As the movie is brand new, the 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is gorgeous, with solid blacks, good detail, and no notable artifacts. The Dolby Digital 5.0 surround audio is startlingly full and immersive. The bonus features are... well, there's a few minutes of deleted scenes/footage. And that's it.

NINJA ASSASSIN is a violent, absurdly bloody live-action cartoon that offers a fair amount of entertainment for 99 minutes. I liked it okay - and loved seeing Kosugi back in black - but I think it would have been just as much fun at half the budget and with real martial arts fights instead of the overwrought, video game-styled "action" employed by the filmmakers. For action fans, it's worth a rental.

BUY: Ninja Assassin