Buckets of blood and fun in "Ninja Assassin"
"Ninja Assassin" arrives in timely manner for the holidays, when turkeys are carved and served with sides of cranberry sauce and dressing, as there's plenty of slicing, dicing and flying appendages in the new martial arts film. With loads of fast-paced fight scenes and more blood than Jason or Freddy could ever dream up, it's far more entertaining than you might think. Don't get me wrong, the Wachowski Brothers (of "Matrix" fame) produced film is pure hokum and ridiculously over-the-top, so much that it’ll end up an end-of-year guilty pleasure over much more serious movie going fare.
Raizo (Rain) is one of the world's deadliest ninja assassins, having been kidnapped as a child and raised by the Ozunu Clan, believed by the world to be a myth. When Raizo's friend is executed by the clan, Raizo flees into hiding. He later reemerges, seeking revenge. Meanwhile, Mika Coretti (Naomie Harris) is a Europol agent who investigates money linked to political murders and finds that it is linked to the Ozunu Clan. She defies her superior, Ryan Maslow (Ben Miles), and retrieves secret agency files to find out more. The clan, finding out about the investigation, attempts to assassinate her, but she is rescued by Raizo. Hiding in Europe, Raizo and Mika must find a way to take down the Ozunu Clan.
"Ninja Assassin" swoops in at a time when the martial-arts tank has run dry and masters like Jet LiJackie Chan or aging or taking a different direction. If you think you've seen it all, then you should see "Ninja Assassin," a preposterous, messy but energetic film that comes with some eye-popping fight scenes and featuring excessive amounts of violence, gore and bright red stylized blood. Director James McTeigue ("V for Vendetta") gets things going early on in a jolting, splattery prologue that sets the pace for the rest of the film.
There's not a single subtle thing about "Ninja Assassin" and in some respects that isn't a bad thing, after all there's nothing worse than a boring martial arts film. A weak back story told in flashback nearly drags it down, but a few action set pieces midway through, including one in a parking garage, rev up the film. As for the rest of the movie, it's a bit of a mess: the thin story is barely there, character development is marginal at best and the acting, well, there's not much to it, all of it held together by those exciting action sequences and a dark tone that befits the story.
South Korean pop singer and model Rain plays "Ninja Assassin's" lead role with essentially a series of poses, but he handles the big knives and weapons well, while Naomie Harris' (a U.K. actress who may be recognizable from the last two "Pirates of the Caribbean" films) role is largely nonessential, adding beauty and some comic relief to its remarkably downbeat feel (and how she miraculously escapes any injury is as big a contrivance as any sword used in the film).
If you don't have the stomach for this kind of thing (and you may not if you eat too much holiday food), then you're better off with the scrubbed PG-13 "Twilight" set, as the violence here, while clearly video-game inspired along with some added CG effects, pops with a lot of fervor, and in a couple of scenes (particularly one in a restroom) may cause some discomfort. Still, without it, "Ninja Assassin" wouldn't be near as fun, including the cool way that some characters can appear and reappear during key battle scenes. The overlong climactic battle in "Ninja Assassin" is enjoyable, predictable and overdone, adding guns to an already crowded mix of swords, knives and any other type of blade that can be used in battle.
Martial-arts enthusiasts - no pun intended - will get a big kick out of this and may clamor for sequels if the film becomes a big hit. "Ninja Assassin" is mindless, escapist entertainment and worthwhile for those wanting to enjoy the holidays with some blood and a few high kicks.