PHENOMENALITY: (1) *uncanny,* (2) *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological*
I commented in one of my reviews of the later "American Ninja" films that I thought the first two were decent timewasters. However, my re-screening of the first two films has revealed that they were pretty dull affairs overall, and are mostly interesting for having launched the action-career of Michael Dudikoff, who definitely went on to better vehicles.
Joe Armstrong (Dudikoff) serves as am Army private with a unit stationed in the Philippines. He was conscripted into the armed forces after some minor crimes, but Joe has an excuse: he's a high-functioning amnesiac who doesn't remember his own background. He's a monosyllabic loner with no friends in his unit, and this status becomes worse after an army platoon is attacked by black-garbed ninjas. seeking to kidnap the daughter of the base colonel. Joe saves the young woman, but everyone else in the platoon is slain. He returns to his unit under a cloud of suspicion, since no one knows where the hell this gang of ninjas came from.
Joe then makes a friend the hard way, when one Corporal Jackson (Steve James) challenges Joe to a fight. Despite Jackson's martial talents, Joe smokes him easily, and the two become buddies. Over time the duo investigate the provenance of the ninjas, who are working for a gang that steals army ordnance and sells it on the black market. Why this gang decided to use ninjas is anyone's guess.
Sam Firstenberg's direction is pretty dull except in the fight-scenes, and these are far from top-rate, since Dudikoff shows himself a novice at fake-fighting.
Firestenberg's direction doesn't get any better for the second entry in the series, but Joe looks much better in the fight scenes, as does returning partner Jackson. This time, the main villain (Gary Conway) is a drug-dealer who has a side operation: that of using genetic manipulation to create an army of "super ninjas." (Thus I find out why the fourth and fifth films in the series made a big thing about giving their respective protagonists "super ninja" antagonists; the writers were trying to coast on whatever very small charge viewers got from this film.)
Once again the good guys must rescue a rather uninteresting damsel in distress, who in this case is the daughter of the villain's imprisoned geneticist. Everything not involving the fights is dull, and though the bad guy talks about his pet ninjas having super speed and being reinforced with steel limbs, it doesn't appear that his existing ninjas have been genetically enhanced. Still, since the doctor's genetic program appears to be a work in progress, I judge the second film to be marvelous in nature. Joe Armstrong doesn't use many special weapons, and those that the bad ninjas utilize are pretty mundane, like nets and ropes.