American Ninja 4: The Annihilation (1991)


Ninjas are actually threatening again! From three films where they were basically ignorable cannon fodder, we come to a film where they appear to have skills and use them to kill people. Hey, it’s a big step! And we also have a moderately amusing attempt to crowbar the last film into this series’ “continuity”!

But the one thing these films never forget is to include numerous moments of staggering technical incompetence to give us all a nice laugh. It’s bookended with them – at the beginning, the Vicar performing a wedding is reading his lines off a piece of paper. Wouldn’t he know the words to the wedding ceremony, which given his age he would have performed hundreds of times? And right at the end, a helicopter is blown up and we’re treated to a couple of seconds of the mangled miniature swinging in the breeze on a string. Thanks, Cannon Films!

Sean (David Bradley), who was a pro karate fighter in part 3, is now a CIA agent, and along with his black sidekick (who’s a mostly non-fighting nerd, because Steve James was not hired for this) they’re sent to exotic location X to stop a Muslim fella along with his British “ex-policeman” friend from sending a suitcase nuke to New York. Along the way, he picks up a love interest pretty much by accident (she’s so immediately hot for his bod I wondered if they already knew each other, but no) and then gets captured and chained up by the Sheikh.

Joe Armstrong (Dudikoff, who never bothered getting any better at acting) is now in the Peace Corps, teaching, and is reluctantly brought out of retirement to rescue Sean, the other special forces guys, and basically bring peace and happiness to the world. And thank heavens! His intensity was sorely missed in the last film, as it was in the first 45 minutes of this one. Strangely, the two apparent great friends Joe and Sean share basically no screen time. Did the actors not like each other? Was it some weird money-saving thing from Cannon? Who knows?

This is the sum total of them sharing the same screen

This is the sum total of them sharing the same screen

So, you don’t need much more from me about this one. You ought to expect what you get from the fourth installment of a low-budget series of ninja movies.You will learn that ninjas can dodge bullets but not throwing stars, which seems ass-backwards, that Joe has developed a Vulcan Death Grip, and that at the end, he walks away in a white t-shirt without a single mark on it, in fact, having taken zero damage throughout. Hurrah!

There’s not a lot technically to say about any of these movies. Cannon were experts at low-budget cinema so all the sound and camera angles are competent and completely uninteresting. The special effects are ropey, but very rarely used. Weirdly, these days they seem much higher-budget than they were, due to the use of proper film and lighting.

Now, onto part 5, which I think will also qualify for unquel status, making this a rare example of a franchise having two non-consecutive films which bear zero relation to what’s gone on before.

Rating: thumbs down