Sunday, November 9, 2014

1 Star Review! (The Exclamation Point Means FUNNY!): "9 1/2 Ninjas!" (1991)

What seemed like a can't-miss idea on paper (an "Airplane!"-type spoof of "9½ Weeks" and ninja flicks) barely musters any laughs.

The beautiful Lisa Thorne (Andee Gray) is being evicted from her apartment building by the evil land developer Gruber (Robert Fieldsteel). Luckily, she meets handsome businessman/ninja Joe Vogue (Michael Phenicie), who also happens to be getting kicked out of his stylish apartment by Gruber. Thorne and Vogue are the targets of a massive army of ninjas handpicked by Gruber, so Joe must train Lisa how to protect herself, just like his mother (Magda Harout) taught him how to be a ninja.

There are so many good ideas and background silliness going on, it's a shame this film is such a mess. I found myself laughing at the opening sequence, where Lisa walks down the street and distracts every man she passes. Unfortunately, the half-baked ideas take over. For some reason never fully explained, Joe is also a complete klutz. Physical comedy and pratfalls are an art. When they work (any Charlie Chaplin film), they are comedy gold. When they are tacked on as an afterthought (did anyone think Julianne Moore in "Evolution" was hysterical?), they are painful to sit through. This film's goofy pratfalls rarely work. The timing is off, as well, as punchlines to jokes are premeditated to the point of ridiculous predictability. The film's more surreal moments work better, like Don Stark's odd henchman role, and Lisa's kidnapping (the pay phone in the car was silly fun). Don't be fooled by the erotic aspect of the film. If the filmmakers had trimmed a couple of the topless scenes, they would have had a PG13 rated film easily. The strongest cursing here is "bullshit".

The film seems stuck in Joe's stylish apartment for a very large amount of the running time, and it is in these scenes that the film's story becomes stuck as well. I enjoyed the scenes of young Joe being coached by a blind ninja master, but all of the smiles to be had turned to eye-rolling frowns as the cast tries too hard to be wacky. The results dwindle to the point where this is one of the lowest rated films on IMDB, and I notice it was only released on DVD overseas (I have a VHS copy of this tape, confidently recorded in EP mode).

I'm not sure how you might stumble across "9 1/2 Ninjas!" (I got it as part of a five for a dollar VHS sale at a thrift store), but if you spot it somewhere, move on. You can thank me later. (*) out of five stars.