Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Dennis Dugan
Stars: Chris Farley, Robin Shou, Nicollette Sheridan, Chris Rock, Nathaniel Parker,
Running time: 90 minutes.
The films of former popular Saturday Night Live regular Chris Farley are low brow, juvenile offerings that are mainly based around the loud, crass and innately oafish, clumsy demeanour of the bulky comic. Farley has played effective supporting roles in other comics’ films and twice been paired with fellow SNL alumni David Spade for two of his biggest hits, but he has yet to headline his own movie. The affable comic gets his chance in Beverly Hills Ninja, a deliberately low brow comic thriller written especially with him in mind. From the same producers as Kingpin and Dumb And Dumber, Beverly Hills Ninja is essentially mindless entertainment, perfect for undemanding audiences and fans of Farley’s manic style, who will lap it up.
The central plot device in the film, written by Mark Feldberg and Mitch Klebenoff (who both collaborated on rapper duo the Fat Boys’ little seen comedy Disorderlies), sees Farley mistaken for the great white Ninja of ancient Japanese legend. This is essentially a one-joke film that derives much of its visual humour from the preposterous concept of the bulky Farley trying to move with all the stealth and dexterity and physical grace of the legendary Japanese Ninja warriors. Raised from childhood in a dojo overseen by a sensei master (Soon-Tek Oh), Haru (Farley) is a diligent pupil who nonetheless remains a clumsy oaf, an accident waiting to happen, as much of a danger to himself as he is to his fellow Ninjas.
But when a mysterious American woman (Nicollette Sheridan, from the spy spoof Spy Hard) arrives at the dojo seeking help, Haru seizes the opportunity to prove himself and sets off to Beverly Hills on the trail of Martin Tanley (played with urbane charm and understated menace by British stage actor Nathaniel Parker), a murderous counterfeiter who plans to flood the Japanese market with fake yen notes. This is yet another fish out of water story as the incompetent Haru arrives in chic Beverly Hills determined to prove his worth as a Ninja warrior. He soon leaves his mark, unintentionally wreaking havoc and chaos wherever he goes, blundering his way through a murderous and brutal war between two rival factions of Yakuza street gangs who are keen to control Tanley’s operation.
Actor turned director Dennis Dugan (Happy Gilmore, Problem Child, etc) is quite at ease with this sort of deliberately low brow humour, and he maintains a brisk pace throughout. Performances are enthusiastic enough, with Sheridan essentially playing it straight here, providing a perfect foil for Farley’s manic and over-the-top style. A delightfully droll Parker also plays it straight as the typically effete and sophisticated yet vicious villain, while American born martial arts star Robin Shou (last seen in Mortal Kombat) also lightens up and has some fun as Gobei, Haru’s long-suffering friend who is sent along to secretly protect him from harm but finds himself on the receiving end of some bruising treatment. Chris Rock, another graduate from the SNL stable, appears as Joey, a sarcastic hotel bell boy who becomes Haru’s eager young side kick.
Much of the unsubtle visual humour is of the physically punishing, slap-stick variety and provides plenty of chuckles, but ultimately Beverly Hills Ninja is let down by the clichéd, derivative and basically nonsensical plot that tends to get in the way of the laughs.
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