The Series Project: American Ninja (Part 1)
American Ninja 2: The Confrontation (dir. Sam Firstenberg, 1987)
American Ninja 2 was a discovery. This film is glorious. It can perhaps occupy a spot next to Hard Ticket to Hawaii as one of the pinnacles of '80s B-movies. So much ninja fighting. Such a cool story. So wonderfully dumb. So much more fighting. In many ways, American Ninja 2 is perfect.
I'll also say this: Michael Dudikoff, while called on to do little more than brood and be silent and mysterious, is a good looking kid. He's in great shape and fights well. And while he may not be Daniel Day Lewis in terms of his complexity and range as an actor, he at least is as much an actor as he is a fighter; there are other action stars whose acting falls by the wayside while they merely grunt the same three character notes over and over. Dudikoff seems more at ease on screen. I also liked the two-man dynamic between Dudikoff and Steve James, who returns for this sequel. One is quiet, reserved and skilled. The other is equally matched, but loud and brash. They play off each other nicely, in an old-fashioned buddy cop sort of way.
The story is part of its charm: Joe and Steve have been dispatched to a remote tropical paradise where the local Marines have taken to wearing jams and sandals. They have been asked to investigate the disappearance of other Marines, and soon find themselves dodging treachery at the hands of both corrupt Marines and, of course, ninjas. Who is behind it all? The evil-seeming Marine commander Wild Bill (Jeff Weston), or is it the evil drug dealer The Lion (Gary Conway)? It's the evil drug dealer.
The fights in this film are even more plentiful than in the last, and they seem more enthused. I think the choreographer finally found his instrument in American Ninja 2. Both Dudikoff and James pull out all the stops. The bar brawl is particularly notable.
Other fun stuff: there is a greedy local kind named Toto who asks for handouts, a mysterious protestor (Michelle Botes) who is kidnapped by The Lion, but eventually rescued. Most of the climax takes place on Blackbeard Island. And the ultimate ploy? The kidnapped Marines were being engineered to be the ultimate ninja warriors through genetic manipulation. Sigh. They just don't make 'em like they used to.
I could go on at length about how much I loved American Ninja 2, but I'd prefer you discover it for yourself. It's pretty special. The next film was a step down, largely thanks to a shift in leads, but it's still pretty fun, and it features a cool villain.