Although “much better than the first one” is a legitimate thing to say about a movie, it’s not like if you’re the sort of person who’s going to willingly view a film called “American Ninja”, you’ll be too worried about sequel quality. But let’s discover what’s fun about this together!
Oh, hold on, it’s subtitled “The Confrontation”. That’s pretty much described every film ever made! Confrontation is the meat and drink of motion pictures, but I would like to see “American Ninja 5: The Friendship”. But luckily good ol’ Michael Dudikoff wants confrontation and we get to see more of his ninja skills.
Improvement reason 1: fighting
Despite some ropey fight scenes right at the beginning, and the fact the main villain doesn’t appear to have ever seen a sword before, they’re still better than the fight scenes from part 1, with room for improvement in parts 3 and 4 too!
Improvement reason 2: sidekick
Steve James is back as Joe’s sidekick Jackson, and it’s much more of an equal partnership now. Although you’d describe him as a cut-price Carl Weathers, his presence guarantees a good time (he was present in a lot of 80s action movies), and he’s a huge improvement on Dudikoff in the acting and charisma stakes. And I’m sad now, as I discovered when looking him up he’s been dead since 1993, when he was only 41.
Improvement reason 3: stunts
Lots of jumping from rooftops, but most memorably of all, the ninja who gets dragged along behind our heroes’ car, taking some truly hellish looking knocks along the way. Hope he was alright!
Improvement reason 4: plot
Although the plot is, it must be said, quite similar (Joe discovers a plot involving military people to make money where they shouldn’t), it’s more fun. The location is better (a Caribbean island of some kind, plenty of neon coloured beach wear), the baddie is better (a guy who wants to create a genetically engineered race of super-ninjas) and it all just feels better put together.
Improvement reason 5: comedy
As well as Steve James being great at delivering his lines with a funny inflection, the actual comic relief character is a lot better this time. And with Dudikoff relaxing, a little, everyone around him can be more relaxed too.
There’s still plenty of that low-budget “huh?” factor though. As the camera pans across the super-ninjas, one of the extras clearly lied his way onto the set, because he can’t bend down or do any of the moves, and looks hilariously out of place. The bar described as “the hottest joint in town” without a trace of irony looks like an absolute hovel,. and the way that no matter where they go, they’ll just find a few ninja hanging out on a street corner never fails to make me laugh. The visual of Joe and Jackson fighting ninjas near the beginning is fantastic too, because Jackson is only wearing small red shorts and Joe a surfing outfit.
So, although it’s still not terribly good, it’s a huge improvement over part 1, and wouldn’t be out of place in the rotation for your “cheesy but fun movie night”, should you and your friends have one.
Rating: thumbs in the middle
PS. There’s a very early variant on our favourite “haha all our friends are dead” and I’ll leave this photo and caption for you to enjoy: