Little Ninjas
(a.k.a. 3 Little Ninjas & The Lost Treasure)

Director: Emmett Alston            
Douglas Ivan, Steven Nelson, Jonathon Anzaldo

Just because a couple of things may be good or even okay individually, it doesn't mean that there will be a smooth combination if they are combined. I like chocolate, and I like hamburgers, but I'd never eat a hamburger garnished with chocolate sauce. Now take martial arts and kids, at least in the world of motion pictures. I enjoy watching martial arts, especially in dramatized form on the small or big screen. And kids are okay, I guess - there have certainly been some movies and TV shows with the principle characters being children that I've found entertaining, even as an adult. But when it comes to martial arts dramatizations where the principle character(s) are children - well, it's always an instant disaster. Remember the TV show Sidekicks? ("Whoops Ernie, can't finish driving you to school right now! Gotta take you with me to this armed robbery just reported on my police radio, but don't worry - you'll have plenty of time to kick the robbers' butts and get to school before first period starts!") Maybe not, but you almost certainly know of the Three Ninjas movie series, with its painful Home Alone-inspired pratfalls and ineffectual cartoon villains - though it was almost certainly inspired as well by a few similarly-minded kiddie kung fu flicks made in Hong Kong several years earlier. Then there is Surf Ninjas, the less said about the better.

You see the problem with these kind of movies now; the blending of these two elements inevitably generates the syndrome known as "CUTE". This is not to be mistaken with "cute", which is associated with pleasant things Not only was Robert Hunt the villain, he was also in charge of "recruiting" extras for the movielike puppies and babies. That kind is generated naturally and with no effort, so it's very palatable and easy to take even in mass quantities. "CUTE", on the other hand, is completely artificial and labored, and practically screams in your face that it thinks itself is "cute", and so should you. If you don't, don't worry - there's a lot more where that came from, and you'll be seeing more of it any second now. Anyway, there seems to be some kind of mutual understanding between all filmmakers that states that any of them who decides to make a movie combining martial arts with children must give it this "CUTE" attribute. Perhaps it can be explained by the plausible theory that these filmmakers are afraid of some kind of backlash from parents if they show kids in a deadly serious environment beating the crap out of someone, or the kids getting their crap kicked out of themselves. But if there is only one possible way of handling a subject, and that one way is crap, then I don't even see the point of trying, when there are plenty of good ideas just lying around. Logic isn't something that you'll find a lot of in Hollywood, and it explains why Little Ninjas got made despite all the evidence for its justification of existence being to the contrary.

No doubt in an attempt to give this movie an exotic flavor, it starts in a foreign land, on a South Chinese Sea island called Rotonga. Under a jungle waterfall, a violent explosion propels a screaming man several feet into the air, and almost immediately afterwards two groups of men start fighting. No one in these two groups has a gun (that would be too violent for the kids), but the wooden staffs people bash into solar plexuses, and the machetes they use to disembowel their opponents are almost as effective as any modern-day weapon. "I am Sarak, soon to be the ruler of Rontonga!" helpfully explains the bald-headed turban-wearing bare chest-exposing Fu Manchu-mustached leader (Robert Hunt) of the bad guys, who we soon learn is looking for a certain treasure a priest has hidden. Nearby meanwhile, a quartet of American tourists, made up of young boy Stevie, his mother, and two of Stevie's friends (this is one generous woman!) all traveling by oxcart for some last-minute sightseeing before returning home. While the boys are having a great time ("Even Disneyland doesn't have a ride like this!") their mother/guardian is complaining, unknowingly uttering ironic statements like "What do they do for fun around here?" and "What I wouldn't give to dive in a nice pool of water..." - which, of course, are cues each time to momentarily cut back to that raging battle and seeing the combatants getting slashed and thrown into the river.

Sarak captures several of the priest's followers, throwing them off one by one off the top of a waterfall until he finds out the priest has a map with the location of the treasure. Don't worry - this murder spree is all made quite palatable for the kiddies by Hunt The kids were agog that someone chose seppuku over acting in the movieputting a giggle in his already over-the-top performance, no doubt inspired by that great British thespian Tod Slaughter. The rebels invade the nearby village, where the mother/guardian is doing some shopping while creating an excuse to bring in some gags involving the local cuisine of chicken heads and intestines. The boys have elected to watch the rather wimpy-looking martial arts festival in the village, so they are right in the middle of the battle when the rebels strike. (Incidentally, we are told that rebels attack this village on a regular basis - didn't the mother/guardian read the edition of Lonely Planet for this country before planning this vacation?) As you have probably guessed, the three boys bump into the priest in the middle of all this, who gives them the map for safekeeping. He's wounded and dying, so this leads to several gags where the boys think the priest has died, but he has just momentarily closed his eyes each time. The bleeding priest does end up dying, but the movie again makes sure kids won't be freaked out because of the boys' nonchalant attitude towards it - after all, they just met the guy, right? ("I think he's really dead this time. Let's get out of here.") The chortling Sarak blocks their way of escape, but he's no match for the boys' ninja skills - which involve the deadly arts of foot-stomping and shin-kicking, leaving our mass-murdering villain jumping around on one foot and howling.

The boys and their mother/guardian manage to escape and make it back to L.A. - just in time to participate in the city's karate tournament. I used to think that karate and ninjitsu were two entirely different Japanese martial arts - guess I was wrong. During the tournament, where the kids are so tough that they don't put pads on the hard gym floor for them to fight on, two agents of Sarak come by and identify the kids as the ones in Rotonga. How did you guess that one is fat and the other is thin, and the fat one is the brains of the department and bullies his thin partner around? Some things never change. After asking about the kids to one of the tournament officials and then asking where their changing room is (I'm not going to touch that), Doofus and Dork ransack the changing room, logically deducting the kids would bring the treasure map along with them to this tournament. Of course, Stevie and his friends (whose names still haven't been revealed) catch them in the act, which of course means their ninja skills are needed again. This time, it's the fine art of beaning your opponent over the head with a knapsack and shuffling around in the worst fight choreography since Skinheads. Their sensei soon comes in and saves the day, clobbering the duo and throwing one of them through the glass in the door leading outside, and the duo runs away. The boys and the sensei decide they were just robbers, though they don't try to figure why a door to the boys' locker room would have a full-length window, enabling people outside to peep in. And I'm not going to touch that as well.

Doofus and Dork, with glass visibly stuck in the face of the one pitched out of the window, report back to Sarak, who is hiding out at "Malay Imports". (But if he's from Rotonga, how come he's shacking up at...?) "What can I expect from two imbeciles?" barks Sarak at report of their failure, which The director soon learned not to have the actors look at the script right before shooting a sceneleads to the unanswered question as to why he sent these imbeciles out to do this task in the first place. What's also unanswered is why he sends these two out again, even when you consider he also sends a third guy to accompany them. The three thugs stake out the dojo where Stevie and his friends are practicing, which leads to several boring and inconsequential minutes of footage of young karate enthusiasts at work. It's obviously a way to pad out this short-running (85 minutes) movie, especially when you consider a similar thing happened at that karate tournament several minutes earlier in the movie. The sensei reminds the class of their upcoming summer training camp near the Grand Canyon, which Stevie and his friends will be attending (two summer vacations and karate classes? Wow, these kids are spoiled!) Since it will be dirty out there, the sensei hands the kids ninja uniforms, so not only will they be able to get as dirty as they want, the movie technically can be called Little Ninjas. After class, Stevie and his friends are once again confronted by Doofus and Dork... and once again it is their sensei who jumps in to the rescue and fights off the attackers with bone-crunching kicks and sucker punches. "This is the second time this has happened," the sensei says afterwards. "I think you owe me an explanation!" Actually, I think it's the sensei who owes the kids an explanation. Namely: If you are such an expert martial art teacher, then how come these kids couldn't defend themselves?

As Sarak fumes about the incompetence of his henchmen and decides to take matters in his hands when the kids go to camp (though he indicates he will be bringing his henchmen along with him!) the kids come clean to their sensei and Stevie's mother. The kids tell them not just about the dying priest, but their escape from Sarek, which gives the movie the excuse to not only play this footage again, but add extra footage we didn't see the first time. Yes, we get the director's cut of the kids' escape, showing us more Home Alone-inspired mayhem the kids pulled on Sarek's bloodthirsty machete-wielding henchmen. After hearing all this and seeing the map, the sensei says he has a friend in the state department who he'll contact. However, Jack, the Alan Alda-lookalike friend over at the "Federal Building", expresses dismay about the situation, explaining, "With the rest of the world watching [the United States], it's hard for us to stick our nose in someone else's business." Besides, it's revealed that rebel leader Sarek somehow has diplomatic immunity in this country.

Instead of advising something like police protection, Jack tells his friend they should instead hide out for the next few days, so it's off to camp they go. On the (very long - more padding) bus journey to camp the kids sing "99 Bottles Of Beer On The Wall", actually getting as far to the "30 bottles of beer" part. At camp they are all met by the caretaker "Cookie", a Martial arts discipline won't solve every problem a kid has - some will still have hang-upsgrizzled-old prospector type who wears overalls over his red longjohns and has somehow been transported to the 20th century. The few kids that are at this camp (leading to the question on how this excursion is financially sound for the people organizing it) split up into several groups. A few of the boys practice their moves with the sensei, and all of the girls engage in jump rope - after all, these girls traveled all the way to attend a martial arts camp, so they have to have something to do. Of course, Stevie and his friends dress up in their black ninja costumes and go for a hike, so that when Sarek and his idiot henchmen soon afterwards invade the camp and take the kids hostage at knifepoint, the trio won't be there but will be be just far away enough to see the hostage-taking happening. And of course, that means that the three of them realize that it's up to them to use their ninja skills and save their friends, with the assistance of their own idiotic henchman (Cookie) and a fourth younger boy who happens to be with them at the time, no doubt added at this point so there will be extra appeal to the especially younger demographic watching this movie.

Believe it or not, there's almost a half hour of running time still to go. But I don't think there's any need to have in-depth coverage of what's yet to happen, which includes urination, Keystone Kops-inspired speeded-up footage, the kids having good laughs at the severe punishment they deal out (including the repeated crunching of bad guys' groins) and curious things like a camp kitchen having a dog door and a frying pan obviously made up of a tin foil pie plate that's been painted black. All this - and the entire movie, for that matter -  plays as if every one of those past kiddie martial arts had been put into a blender and a random handful taken out and fastened together. With that in mind, I guess if you have somehow avoided all of this time in seeing a kiddie martial arts movie and you want to see one, then Little Ninjas would be the one that would best represent this worthless genre. What's that? I've already spoiled too much of the movie for you in my review to make it worthwhile for you to rent? Well, I apologize then. I guess.

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)

See also: King Kung Fu, Secret Agent Club, Star Kid