Ninja Academy
Review By: Gringo

The late 80's seemed to be a breeding ground for low budget comedy movies centering on a gang of misfits doing wacky things...with hilarious results. Or not. Coming hot off the heels of every other academy that had comedic potential back then (Police, Snowboard, Immigrant Labour) surely Ninja Academy was going to be a laugh-a-minute? Hey, it even starred Will Egan, who is one of my heroes. There's not many people make just two B-movies and then disappear off the face of the Earth. And it's a shame because he comes across as a likeable, decent actor.

In fact, this movie was the last of the two he made. So what's it all about, Alfie? A handy introduction lets us know all about Chiba, a very cheap version of The Karate Kid's Mr. Myagi. He's also bald, also has a major beard occurring, and speaks pidgin English. He runs a ninja academy in Southern California (naturally), and for no real reason spends a long time worshipping a pair of golden nunchuks. Addleman - Chiba's fat, receding-hairline student - decides one day that he wants the nunchuks. So they have a fight. Amusingly, Addleman whacks Chiba to the ground with a metal pole. Whilst Myagi - I mean, Chiba - lies writhing in pain, Addleman claims his prize.

However, a random Chinese man tells him that he's been dishonest and very un-ninja-like. Turns out Chiba won after all!. Cut forward to a few years later, and now it's time to meet the new recruits at the academy. There's two girls, who have - to be honest - pretty pointless parts. They scream a bit and run around, but mostly they're just kind of the background, used mostly as love interests for two of the male characters.

Joining them at the academy is geek Claude, who makes the following clever connection: he falls face first into a chocolate cake, burns his hand and slips on some water - so decides joining the ninja academy is the next logical step. Right. Not to forget the secret agent 007-11 (I'm not making this up), who's there to get back in shape. Meanwhile Will Egan (swish) plays a spoilt rich kid - a sure sign that by the end he'll change into a spoilt rich kid who sees the error of his ways. And guess what, he does!

What makes the difference to Ninja Academy and prevents it from being another low-budget failure is the presence of two actors. Firstly, Robert Factor as one of the only consistently funny characters; George, an über-militant maniac who's at the academy for a refresher course. This guy is your classic guns-obsessed, ultra-paranoid renegade, although amusingly his real job is with the Orange County Chamber of Commerce.

Factor's performance is a great parody of this type of character; the low, menacing voice, the angry glares, the picture of the Ayatollah Khoemni he keeps on his wall as a reminder of 'those f*ckers' abroad. There's even some attention to reality; when George is confronted with imminent danger he reveals his true cowardly self. I don't know whether this was written into the script or not, but it's the small touches like this that keep Ninja Academy on the favourable side of average.

The other good presence in the movie is, perhaps fittingly, the one with only one line. It's not because the person playing him is a bad actor (he's actually quite funny on-screen) that he's so great. No, it's because the character is a mime. Yes, a mime. Normally I hate them; arrogant gits who think waving their arms in the air passes for art. However, this mime - this Jeff Robinson-portrayed mime - is one I like. He beats up thugs (clearly identified by their wearing of leather jackets). He successfully picks up women without saying a thing. He has no sympathy for the dim-witted; he punches them instead.

Jeff Robinson later went on to star in the role of a radio controller in some movie or another. Should've agreed to do Ninja Academy II: The Professionals, eh? It's a shame, as he's quite funny in his role. Robinson helps the movie because all of his humour is derived from silence - the first mime I've ever found funny. Anyway, this motley crew - mime and militant included - go through their training, but little do they know Addleman is back...for revenge! It seems he invested wisely and has opened up a rival ninja academy in Beverly Hills. It's odd that his academy is really the garden of a Hollywood bigshot's house, but that's probably just nit-picking.

Addleman's motivation seems to be two-fold. Firstly, he wants his academy to be number one. Considering Chiba runs his organisation from a collection of wooden shacks, that won't be too hard. Secondly, he wants to give his old master a kick in the teeth, and get the nunchuks. Can't blame him for that. To carry out his nefarious plan, Addleman sends his wacky sidekick, Nameless Stooge, to go and spy on Chiba and the new recruits. Remember Police Academy? Remember Captain Harris and Procter? Well, the relationship between Addleman and Nameless Stooge is exactly the same. Apart from the over-done scene where the aforementioned policemen would stumble through a back door into a gay bar. Which happened

This being an academy for ninjas - and not policemen, I assume - there's no such scene. Instead, the stooge does a below-par job of spying by taking a few photos of Chiba's daughter taking a bath. Oh, and he gets urinated on. Despite this, it is refreshing to see very little in the way of over-done jokes in Ninja Academy. The writer could quite easily have taken the 80's template of consistent smut, cheap shots at minorities and even cheaper punchlines. However, there's something about this movie - something almost innocent - that means most of the humour is achieved through tasteful means. There are three brief and pretty unnecessary nude scenes, but only having one of the ingredients of a standard 80's comedy can be forgiven.

And that's it really. Chiba's excellent training goes something like this: shout at each other, get smacked with a bamboo stick, climb a rope, climb a wall, get smacked with a bamboo stick, go paint-balling (yes, paint-balling), prevent getting smacked with a bamboo stick. You are now a ninja! I like this movie a great deal due to the minimal brain cell use it requires. Just enjoy yourself and don't concern yourself with the minutae ( I've just done). At the end, the hopeless recruits are now, apparently, lean, mean, - but not yet Ninja - machines thanks to the expert guidance they received at the academy. This comes in very handy as Addleman's recruits turn up in a fleet of - erm - Mercedes Benz cars, beginning a fight between Chiba and Addleman's students.

Of course, this being Hollywood the ultra-elite, super-trained ninjas at Addleman's academy fare far worse than the small band of misfits assembled under Chiba's guidance. In the movie's big climax, the circle completes as master takes on apprentice - it's whuppin' time, and Chiba's serving it up to Addleman in generous portions. The two grown men kick each other for a while. The bearded one then proceeds to scream and yell something incomprehensible (many times), and just for good measure biting his nemesis a few times. Tasty!

Now, if you were as pudgy as Addleman, I doubt you'd take on a vicious looking, slightly crazy ninja. However, he does, and even after landing on the floor with a resounding back spasm to follow, Addleman gets up and...continues fighting! The idiot deserves what he gets; a strict telling off. Well, a telling off in the smacking-his-face-against-a-wooden-pole-repeatedly sense. By the time Chiba decides to stop turning the guy's face into a mush of blood and bone, I'm convinced the actor playing Addleman was unconscious. I don't know if he ever worked again. Still, he agreed to do it, so we can move on and not concern ourselves with such matters.

With his former student turned body bag now out of the way, Chiba is safe to run his Ninja Academy in peace, knowing he's number one. The golden nunchuks are safe. Hooray! With the excitement over, the students then go their separate ways. Kind of like your last day at school, with everyone going on to do different things. The mime has scored with one of the girls, Claude is now one mean mutha whilst militant George has mysteriously vanished. 007-11 and his new lady head off to Venice, with the helpful reminder that it's in Italy. And as for Will Egan? His character, Josh, decides to stay on at the academy. Seeing as the alternative is an offer from his dad for a "couple of rounds" of tennis, I can't really blame him. You don't get the joy of being smacked with a bamboo stick on a tennis court, after all.

Don't get me wrong; I honestly like Ninja Academy. This is a situation where the cast really do save the movie from being unwatchable. A healthy amount of the jokes are actually funny - not least the training scene montages - and it's far, far better than any other academy movie out there. I've not seen many reviews of Ninja Academy kicking about. A couple of sites mention it, but only in passing. It's like everyone's afraid to come out and admit they've seen it. Well, my brothers and sisters, now is the time to open up and tell the truth. Watching Ninja Academy won't scar you for life. It might even make you laugh. At least the cast come across as likeable, and they seem to be enjoying themselves. And hey, if you don't like watching them in action, at least there's a small amount of gratuitous boob shots.

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