Wednesday, August 24, 2016

VHS WEDNESDAY: AMERICAN NINJA 5 (1993) starring David Bradley and Pat Morita

After taking a few weeks off for a final vacation before school starts we're back with an all-new installment of VHS Wednesday and I hope you're enjoying these as much as I am. This review came about because longtime ER contributor Jonathan Plombon mentioned on Facebook that he was watching AMERICAN NINJA 5 and, honestly, I didn't know there was an AN5 (though I did grab copies of installments 3 and 4 at the Savers a few weeks back for a future installment of this column). Anyway, I suggested Jonathan write the flick up for my/your edification and, well, here you go. So, while we wait for AMERICAN NINJA APPRENTICE enjoy Jonathan's look at this overlooked stepchild of a classic 80s/90s action franchise. And if you have a VHS favorite you'd like to share with our readers, drop me a line at!

In 1992, AMERICAN NINJA 5 continued that proud tradition forged by franchises like ZOMBIE or THE CURSE where a completely unrelated movie somehow becomes part of a series. It's like the child in an otherwise functional family that no one really wants, but that you have to accept because he's packaged with the wife. Not that AMERICAN NINJA 5 (originally named AMERICAN DRAGONS) is unwanted or worthy of stuffing in the basement NEVER to see the light of day. It deserves more than that-like seeing the light of day when he has to mow the lawn or wash the car.

AMERICAN NINJA 5 follows Joe Kastle (David Bradley, who kind of returns from the previous installments, but not really since he plays a totally different character because it's a totally different movie), who is assigned to babysitting a teenaged child named Hiro (Lee Reyes, the Junior National Karate Champion) by his Master Tetsun (Pat Morita, who shows up twice in the film, something that you wouldn't expect considering his placement on the box). As this is going down, Joe becomes involved with Lisa (Ann Dupont), the daughter of a scientist who has developed a powerful insecticide called ZB-12 that can be deadly to humans in large quantities. Of course, there's some curmudgeon who wants it to control the world, and off goes Joe and Hiro to brew up some child-endangering martial-arts mayhem.

You'll be seeing a lot of Hiro in this flick. He's a real modern '90s kid who would much rather play his Sega Game Gear (which is identified by name several times) than do anything physical (reminds me of myself), a position that he eventually changes when he sees how badass Joe is when he's kung-fu fighting.

The early '90s were a time when people loved to watch kids thrown in to dangerously violent situations (see 3 NINJAS and HOME ALONE). AMERICAN NINJA 5 is just another installment in the genre. Most of the time, the kids in these films are annoying, pompous brats whom the writers try to make "charming" by filling their dialog with smart-alecky remarks. And Hiro is as charming as they come. He never really gets his comeuppance, but he does cry in one scene, so you do have that to look forward to.

Along with the violence, there's also a weird theme of sexuality riddled throughout the film. For starters, Hiro is starting to notice girls and because of which, he constantly tells Joe about his new fuzzy feelings. Then an even weirder situation arises when Lisa invites Joe and Hiro over to her boat for dinner. Joe leaves Hiro alone so he can retire to the bottom of the boat to, I guess, have sex with Lisa, leaving Hiro up above to hear all the moaning for himself. All I could think about was how awkward this would be, both for Hiro and Joe, and probably Lisa, as well. Sadly, we never will find out how weird it could be since ninjas invade the boat. It's a miscue by the writers who probably should have kept the scene playing out just a little longer so the audience could really feel sick to their stomachs.

And this is the only time you could feel sick during the movie, because it's hardly graphic. If you're on the lookout for the traditional AMERICAN NINJA fare - flying fists and heads-a-poppin' - you won't find it here. This is strictly PG-13. One fighting sequence even teases a few severed fingers, only to reveal that Joe cut some fruit instead. Depressing.

It's not that this reviewer didn't care for the film. I did. It's just not the video that I want to be responsible for, checking its homework and buying it new school clothes. It's more like a great grandson that you see from time to time and although you never really know which grandson he is, you still give him a dollar and then move on to more important things like sleeping and trying to forget that you'll probably die before the next presidential election. – Jonathan Plombon

Jonathan Plombon is a longtime ER contributor and most recently wrote about WAVE Productions for ER 52 (see our store or buy at Amazon). Look for more from him in our upcoming Super-Sized 30th Anniversary Edition, coming in October!

AMERICAN NINJA 5 is available from Amazon.

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