What do you get when you cross a by-the-books western plot, with some Klansman, with a hero who is just a little less masculine than Gymkata's hulking man-mountain Kurt Thomas, and approximately one square acre of woods to shoot 90% of your movie. Why, you get Ninja Vengeance which, not to be confused by the title, contains neither a ninja, nor vengeance. In fact, it's the least ninja vengeancing movie I have ever seen.
We open with an introduction to our tiny, redneck, West Texas town and from the looks of things it's only slightly larger than the average movie western town, that is, one main street and a few scattered houses around. We meeting Samantha, or "Sam" as everyone calls her (Janet Pawlak – never appearing in anything again after Ninja Vengeance), we meet the local breakfast place with its little gaggle of morning customers including Jesse (David Lord also never appearing in anything after Ninja Vengeance) one of the local Sheriff's Deputies and good-ol'-boy. He demonstrates his love of civil service by chasing out the only black customers in town, Michael (Fredrick Phillips another one not appearing in anything again ever after Ninja Vengeance), and his friend "Michael's Black Friend" (Carl Ryland) and "Michael's White Friend (Sean Sellers), out of the diner.
In the meantime our hero, Chris Mason (Craig Boyett) rides into town on his motorcycle. If you can guess the make and model of the bike you have now seen, literally, every single ninja in this movie.
The standard stranger-in-town series of scenes occurs, Chris interrupts Mike being rousted by the racist cops, he has his irritating meet-cute with Sam, his motorcycle breaks down and is never seen again (my guess is it was sold to finance the last twenty minutes of this stupid movie), etc... If you have ever seen any western at any time then you have seen almost all of the opening half hour of Ninja Vengeance.
What separates Ninja Vengeance from those millions of other films, aside from the simple – Ninja Vengeance sucks more than every other film ever – is that Ninja Vengeance cuts endlessly to actual Ninjitsu Instructor Steven K Hayes who dispenses fortune cookie/yoda wisdom to Chris while a bunch of guys in ninja pajamas do really clumsy karate at the beach. These are meant to frame the personal and moral dilemmas that Chris Mason faces once he is thrust into the town and its increasing violence.
That said, films have to stop doing this if they haven't already!
I mean, if the cut scenes back to whatever life lessons the main character are learning mean something to the plot, then yeah, I guess we can get away with one or two, but in Ninja Vengeance there are so many cuts between present story and Kung Fu Beach I thought the pay-per-view stream was skipping.
Onward into the film we learn that not only is Deputy Jesse the boyfriend of Sam, but that Sam's father, the local sheriff, and several other locals, are all part of a Klan organization in town. Since the town seems to contain approximately 8 people, and 7 of them are white, it's easy to see how badly Michael is going to be treated by his neighbors.
Michael, with his Play (of Kid N' Play) flat top and college education is home on semester break, so it won't be long, he tells Samantha, before he's the hell out of town and this time for good. Samantha, for what it's worth has also been trying to split town for college but hasn't send her letter (whatever that's for) to some school somewhere. Instead she has chosen, at least for the time being to stay behind and help take care of the family hardware store and her father who suffered a heart attack last year.
This is all pretty dense and good character stuff for a movie that ultimately will undue all of the good will of this writing. That said, it was nice to see two characters, as doomed as one of them is, get enough screen time to develop a little back story that will help frame (or extend, depending on your pain tolerance) the idiocy to follow once the story really gets started.
Where were we? Oh right, Chris rides into town and orders oatmeal at the local diner while there he witnesses the mistreatment of Michael and his friends at the hands of the redneck deputy, Jesse. Chris' ninjitsu provides no outlet for intervening. Instead he leaves in disgust, but as luck would have it, his bike won't start. This will keep him in town overnight, which, no doubt after witnessing the local breakfast show, isn't going to be fun.
Michael is sort of zen about the whole being chased off by racist assholes thing and still uses his free non-being-harassed time to try and convince Sam to leave for school. This forces another confrontation, this time at Sam's dad's hardware store. And this time it's not only Jesse who's there is the Sheriff and Sam's dad.
Sam, who has so far tried not to get involved in any of the racist bullshit she apparently lives surrounded by, clearly disapproves. We learn here that Sam and Michael grew up together and, as clumsily written as this was, that Michaels' mother used to take care of Sam when she was little.
Either way, Sam threatens to tell Michaels' mom on her dad and he quiets down.
Still, there has been almost no interaction with our hero yet. But that's going to change soon enough.
I should also mention here that clearly none of the people in this film are professional actors of any sort and boy does it show. The only guy who doesn't seem completely out of place in the whole story is MC Michael, and he is the character that is, because of his "book lern'in" and being black, the guy who is supposed to not fit.
But you know, all this character development has waylaid any ninja action, so let's cut right to the chase. Chris starts to have interactions with Sam during the course of the day in Racistville, and while Chris is out jogging he stumbles into a Klan meeting (burning cross and all) where the local Ku Klux Konstabulary has taken Michael and is beating him senseless in a field.
Chris uses his awesome ninja skills to intervene and for the most part manages to do okay against multiple attackers, unfortunately he unmasks Jesse and gets Michael's blood all over himself, so the legal deck is stacked. Chris high-tails it into the woods while the Klan gives chase. And what are the chases in Ninja Vengeance like?
Imagine if you will a cartoon where, someone, say, Yosemite Sam, was chasing someone, say, Bugs Bunny, and during that chase managed to fire his rifle every single possible way without bothering to aim. Well that is how the chases, all four hundred of them, in Ninja Vengeance play out. Once Chris intervenes in the whole Klan killing Michael thing the rest of the film is just a series of chases through the woods around town as the Sheriff and his men repeatedly catch up with, then get beaten on by, Chris.
Chris can't get out of town either because his Kawasaki Ninja is still in the shop, and worse, he has no friends. The only person he's interacted with who hasn't been hostile to him is Sam. If only he could find her, maybe she could help. This is a pretty awesome leap of logic here, but the script doesn't really give Chris a choice.
Word travels back to Sam that Michael is dead. Delivering this news is her dad, who happened to be at the Klan rally where Michael was killed. Sam runs off to see Martha, Michael's mother who demands that they go see the body together.
Chris finds Sam and tries to explain what happened. Samantha, because she knows that Jesse, who is supposed to be her current boyfriend (if the photos in her bedroom are any indication) is a dickhead, she believes him. However, their interactions are discovered and that forces Chris and Samantha to run together. Samantha, who starts off as a good sport, and as a surrogate for the bored and probably sleeping audience, has Chris clarify all of the events of the film so far while they run. When she isn't asking questions or answering incredulously to Chris' details, manages to complain. She also makes enough mistakes, such as walking over to the local convenience store (inexplicably no where near any road on Earth) where she encounters a few of the local Klansman who are out looking for Chris. She insisted on going to the store because she was hungry, for those of you who are wondering. All of the mistakes that Samantha makes get Chris beaten up. Each time he gets a little better of the guys fighting him but it can't last forever. Eventually he will get tired, and the film seems to be setting up a big Boss Battle between him and Jesse.
Nowhere in any of these fights does the audience see anything typically associated with ninjas. No ninja jammies. No swords. No explosions into upholstery stuffing. No ninja headbands.
Samantha and Chris screw in a barn in one of the least convincing sex scenes ever filmed. Not only is it impossible to want to have sex with Samantha – not that she's ugly, she is average in a late 1980s pleated mom-jeans sort of way, but neither of the characters are likable enough to be love interests to each other. So why the hell they force us to watch them screw in the hay is anyone's guess. At any rate you could do worse things than go take a wiz when this scene starts.
I am not even sure why Chris wants her anyway? Samantha personally sets up two of Chris' savage beatings at the hands and feet of the other cast members because she can't stand being in the woods without snack cakes. I'm not kidding! She runs off as Chris is fighting for his life, and since she can't go to the cops she goes to the only place where she can get help. To Michael's family who are apparently completely unmoved by his death yet very willing to take up arms and fight the Klan. If anyone in the film was able to act, or think, or pretend to interact like actual humans this scene might have been effective. Alas though, they can't and it's not.
The whole thing seems to end right where it began where the Sheriff and the Deputy Jesse and his posse have Chris and Samantha cornered. Jesse, who appears to also be a karate guy but his background in it isn't ever mentioned, and Chris fight.
By the time we get to the conclusion where shotguns are fired and a cavalry of Michael's family (also running through the woods like Yosemite Sam firing all their guns in every which direction, and the federal agents storms the scene, Chris and Samantha look like a Neanderthal couple. The fight lasts long enough to be interesting and despite all the ninja pep-talkery from Steven K. Hayes in flashback form, Chris never ever gets the upper hand over Jesse. But everything ends when Samantha plugs Jesse with a shotgun.
There, who needs ninjitsu?
Clearly Ninja Vengeance is a low budget films that clearly capitalized on the direct to VHS-then-to-the-trash market, now it shows up in places like the Impact On Demand channel – where terrible action movies go to die. The film, for all its faults, and there are plenty of them at least manages to be moderately entertaining in that you could conceivably place a drinking game around the amount of times that Chris gets pounded on by the other cast members. It's also competently edited, and for what appears to be a single camera film that is high praise. Compare this to something like Breaker! Breaker! which just sucks visually in every way possible. And even though this film's production budget probably barely exceeded the catering budget, that goes a long way.
Showing the awesome budget is the super low quality post production sound. I think there are literally two voices, a boy voice (with some variations) and a girl voice for Sam and Martha. This kind of post processing makes it almost impossible to determine who is speaking to whom and when at almost any given time. Even Steven K. Hayes sounds like Chris/Jesse/Michael. Even more irritating, none of them show any inflection at all when they are doing the post processing line reads, so, for example, when onf the Klan guys gets kicked into the burning cross and writhes around in flames the cast yells "yeah. Get him out. Oh no." with the same exact ferocity they would use when ordering a large extra-extra and a Boston crème at Dunkin Donuts.
So, no ninjas. No vengeance. No reason to watch.
Who's in it?:
Janet Pawlak ... Samantha 'Sam' Martin
David Lord ... Jesse (as David Paul Lord)
Craig Boyett ... Chris Mason
Carrie Armstrong ... Waitress
James Wark ... Big Klansman
Fredrick Phillips ... Mike Washington
Carl Ryland ... Mike's black friend
Sean Sellers ... Mike's white friend
Joe Tilbury ... Garage mechanic
Stephen K. Hayes ... Himself (as Ninjutsu Instructor)