American Ninja 4: The Annihilation

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Review by Morbus Iff

Michael Dudikoff returns as the original American Ninja, Joe Armstrong, in American Ninja 4: The Annihilation, but you may forget this long before he finally makes an appearance near the 44m mark. Joe is now a teacher for the Peace Corps and ex-superior Gavin (David Sherwood) cynically laments that "his head is full of peace, love, and life". When Gavin shows up at the church where Joe teaches, pleading with him to reconsider his non-involvement with the violent plot, Joe still takes a few moments before deciding whether to rescue his friend from certain death.

That friend is Sean Davidson, the American Ninja played by David Bradley in American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt. He's been captured by Colonel Scarf Mulgrew (James Booth) and Sheik Ali Maksood (Ron Smerczak), who have succeeded in making a nuclear suitcase bomb to wipe out New York. A previously-deployed Delta Force team also failed at subduing the duo and everyone will be burned alive within a week.

This includes Carl, the token black guy who serves doubly as a replacement for Curtis Jackson (the awesome Steve James from American Ninja 1 through 3, absent here), and the annoying sidekick who serves no other purpose than to make the hero look good. He's so useless that Sean expresses utter disbelief that he's getting shafted with him for the mission... you can almost hear him thinking "Dude, I am so not fighting ninjas with Carl. Carl? That Carl? You've got to be kidding me!" When ninjas later descend on Carl's hiding place, he fires three close range shots only to have each bullet dodged; this not only accentuates Carl's ineptitude, but indicates that Sean, in the midst of ass-kicking nearby, is faster than a speeding bullet.

Joe eventually saves the day by enlisting the help of a ragtag mob from nearby Sulfur Springs, a "rallying point" for those generically pissed off with Mulgrew and his wily ways. Before Joe walks off into the sunset, tiptoeing over fallen enemies and comrades alike, he duels it out with the one-eyed Super Ninja, one so adept at his art form that not even the lack of depth perception can defeat him.

Mulgrew is a genuinely great villain, though his "ex-British police officer" status wouldn't suggest as such. Not only does he first appear at the local bar in a puff of smoke, but he gets some entertainingly evil dialogue. When a captive asserts that the demons from Hell are coming to get Mulgrew, he replies to "tell my friend the Devil I'm not ready to come home yet." He's regretful (lamenting that he "shoulda killed [Sarah] when I killed her father"), intolerant of religion ("Are you mad? There are no bloody priests: I shot them all months ago."), and quick on the draw, both in guns and lovemaking ("I think she needs a stiff talking to … I'm going to have you, but I won't keep you too long"). His Sheik cohort barely warrants recognition, save for clapping on both success and deadly failure in his outdoor Ninja Olympics obstacle course.

With just one more installment in the series, The Annihilation is entertaining enough for what it is: ninjas, fight scenes, and villains, but it doesn't really excel at any of them. It's nearest win is Mulgrew as villain, but he plays it almost too straight, creating a situation where the comical nature of the rest of the movie drags his performance down, making him seem decidedly and unfairly unfunny. Still, to quote the ending, it's "not much for words, but comes through in the end."

Death and sleaze index

Death by: 1: ninja, spike; 2, 3, 4: machine gun; 5: ninja, sword; 6: ninja, bow and arrow; 7: gun; 8: gun, fall from great height; 9: strangulation; 10, 11, 12: gun; 13: hanging; 14, 15, 16: ninja, bow and arrow; 17: ninja, strangulation; 18, 19, 20: ninja, shuriken; 21, 22: spear; 23, 24: ninja, knife; 25, 26, 27: ninja, sword; 28: explosion, fall from great height; 29: explosion; 30: ninja, shuriken; 31: ninja, crossbow; 32: ninja, neck snapped; 33: ninja, knife; 34, 35: burning; 36: machine gun; 37: machine gun, fall from great height; 38, 39: explosion; 40: machine gun; 41: explosion, fall from great height; 42: shotgun; 43: fall from great height; 44: explosion; 45, 46: fall from great height; 47: sword; 48: fall from great height; 49, 50: rocket launcher, explosion; 51: ninja, explosion; 52: ninja, beating. Sleaze by: None.

Image gallery

Automatically generated and alphabetized; expect disorder, but automation preferred.