American Ninja 4: Annihilation (1990)

Country: United States
Director: Cedric Sundstrom
Starring: Michael Dudikoff, David Bradley, James Booth, Dwayne Alexandre, Robin Stille, Ken Gampu, Jody Abrahams, Franz Dobrowsky
Writer: David Geeves (James Booth)
Music: NictenBroek

Sheik Ali Maksood (Ron Smerczak) has a grudge against the West. He also has a nuclear device that will fit into a suitcase (which he allegedly intends to set off in New York). The US President sends a team of Delta Force soldiers, to the un-named African country, where Maksood is hiding out, to retrieve the weapon.

However, what the Americans don’t realise, is that Maksood also has a army of Ninja training at his secret base. The ninja surround the Delta Force team, picking them off one by one, until only four remain. They are captured, and a video tape is send to the US, saying unless the government pays a 50 million dollar ransom, the soldiers will be killed.

A rescue mission is launched and G-6 agent, Sean Davidson (David Bradley – the ninja from American Ninja 3), and his sidekick Carl Brackston (Dwayne Alexandre) are sent to the un-named African country to rescue them. They parachute in and meet their contact, who happens to be a boy named Pongo (Jody Abrahams).

Maksood’s chief of security is a mad sadist, named Mulgrew (James Booth – who also worked on the script under the name David Geeves). Mulgrew hears about Davidson and Brackston, and goes searching for them (with the aid of an army). In a small village, our heroes are given shelter by a WHO nurse named Sarah (Robin Stille). Mulgrew’s search proves fruitless.

American Ninja 4
Michael Dudikoff is Joe Armstrong - American Ninja #1

But of course, Maksood also has an army of ninjas on hand, and they quickly track down our heroes. A fight ensues, with American Ninja, Davidson, killing many of the attacking ninja. But he can’t hold them all off. Davidson, Brackston and Sarah are captured and taken to Maksood’s fortress. However, Pongo manages to flee.

At the fortress ninja training is taking place, and it is revealed that Maksood has a whole variety of different colour coded ninja – red, blue, yellow, black… and my favourite the white nuclear ninjas.

American Ninja 4
David Bradley is Sean Davidson - American Ninja #2

So with Davidson’s capture, what will G-6 (and for that matter, the American government) do? They call on Joe Armstrong (Michael Dudikoff – the star of the first two American Ninja films). Armstrong has retired from the ninja trade, and now works for the Peace Corps as a teacher. He just wants to be left alone. But once he hears how his friend, Davidson, has been captured, he has little choice but to go in and rescue him.

American Ninja 4
Evil Ninja have the American Ninja surrounded

But even the original American Ninja needs some help, so, with the aid of Pongo, he teams up with a gang of outcast rebels, who look like rejects from the Mad Max 2 – The Road Warrior. They storm Maksood’s fortress and much ninja mayhem ensues.

American Ninja 4
One of the numerous 'falling ninja' in American Ninja 4

The first American Ninja was only a B-Grade, low budget affair – albeit hugely enjoyable (I like the second film best). Applying the law of diminishing returns (and therefore diminishing budgets), then it is fair to say that American Ninja 4 probably had less that a shoe-string budget. But most of that non-budget is up on the screen to be seen – mostly ninja uniforms, haircare product and explosions.

American Ninja 4
White 'Nuclear Ninja' load the atomic device on a helicopter

It is interesting to see both American Ninja together in the one film. David Bradley as Sean Davidson is clearly the superior martial artist – his fight scenes are more convincing than Dudikoff’s. However, Dudikoff, as Joe Armstrong, has the screen presence that Bradley lacks, and the film feels more alive in the second half when he is on screen.

The film isn’t high art and never tries to be. It simply tries to deliver a modicum of martial art entertainment and generally it succeeds (well, at least for undemanding viewers – and I guess I am one of those).

American Ninja 4: Annihilation (1990)

American Ninja 2: The Confrontation (1987)

Country: United States
Director: Sam Firstenberg
Starring: Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, Michelle Botes, Larry Poindexter, Gary Conway, Jeff Celentano, Jonathan Pienaar, Bill Curry, Dennis Folbigge, Ralph Draper
Music: Michael Bishop & George S. Clinton

American Ninja 2 is a huge improvement over the first film in the series. It is fast, furious and funny. Yes, that is right, it is funny. The series developed a sense of humour, which considering the silliness of the story, is very welcome. Also Dudikoff and James are much more relaxed and confident in front of the camera. Particularly Dudikoff, who displayed the acting skills of a plank of wood in the first film.

The story starts on the island of St. Thomas in the Caribbean, and three US Marines who are stationed there to protect the US Embassy are racing along a coast road on motorcycles. Before I go any further, let me explain that being stationed at St. Thomas is not like the usual military posting . It is pretty cruisy, with the Marines not required to wear uniform, and seem to spend much of their time, surfing and seducing the female population (the bulk of which, it would appear, spend their whole life clad in bikinis).

The motorcycling Marines stop at a bar for a drink, only to to accosted by some burly locals. Naturally enough a fight ensues, and two of the Marines are knocked out. From the back door a team of black clad Ninja (what is the plural of Ninja? Is it ‘Ninjas’ or is it still just Ninja?) enter the bar and hoist the unconscious men over their shoulders. Then they carry them out the back.

The remaining Marine, Tommy Taylor (Jonathan Pienaar) had been a part of the setup. It appears that he is being blackmailed, as the as yet unknown bad guys are holding his wife hostage. Of course, Taylor reports to his commanding officer (a man known as Wild Bill) that he was knocked out, and does not know what happened to his fellow Marines. However, at the bar, a young boy named Toto was hiding behind a pinball machine, and he witnessed the whole abduction and also reports it to Wild Bill.

The two abducted Marines brings the total of missing Marines to four, and two others disappeared of a motorboat, and Wild Bill makes his report to Washington, telling the tale of the strange black clad Ninja. He asks for help. And what does he receive? A squad of Marines to take control of the situation? No. Two Army Rangers, Sergeant Joe Armstrong (Michael Dudikoff) and Sergeant Curtis Jackson (Steve James). On a Marine base, Army Rangers aren’t exactly welcome, and immediately the two men are treated as interfering interlopers. However, as anyone who has seen American Ninja 1 would know, these two men have had experience at fighting teams of Ninja before.

For those not familiar with the characters, let me explain. Joe Armstrong was brought up by a Japanese man, who passed on the skills of Ninjitsu. Now he is the only American who knows the secrets of the Ninja. He is the American Ninja. Curtis Jackson is the enthusiastic amateur. Don’t get me wrong, he is a good martial artist, but good martial arts are nothing compared to the skills of a Master Ninja.

Of course, it isn’t long until turncoat Taylor tries to set Armstrong and Jackson up, and on a beach, a team of Ninja come for them. Naturally our boys fight them off, but of course, their resistance marks them as a threat, and the villains of the piece target them for extermination.

As for the villain, well he’s Leo Bourke (Gary Conway) – known to all and sundry as The Lion. The Lion is the world’s biggest drug dealer, and to stay Number One, he has a plan to create a SuperNinja Army. Utilising misguided bio-geneticist, Professor Sanbourne the Lion’s plan for world domination is close to coming to fruition. On Blackbeard Island, Sanbourne is close to completing a bio-engineered army of SuperNinja, all of them with ultimate fighting skills encoded into their DNA. That’s where the kidnapped Marines come in – they provide DNA for the SuperNinja. Of course, Armstrong and Jackson have to stop them and spend the climax of the movie beating up a whole swag of Ninja. The Marines get involved too, and lots of things blow up.

I cannot stress how much fun this movie is. Sure it has it limitations in budget, and some of that shows on the screen – for example when the Lion is addressing his team of SuperNinja, and outlining his plot for world domination, his corporate logo (half lion/half shuriken) looks to be drawn on a blackboard with chalk. But generally the film acknowledges its limitations and finds ways to work around them. Dudikoff is not a naturally gifted martial artist, so many of his action sequences are more of a typically American action film style; such as bar-room brawls and car chases, or more traditional fisticuffs. It is only at the end that he has to go Ninja, and use swords and knives.

As I mentioned at the top, Dudikoff and James were much more relaxed this time around and work off each other well. James gets the best of the comedy routines, and as the titled American Ninja, Dudikoff is front and centre during most of the action scenes.

Of course, a movie made in 1987 will have dated somewhat in its style. The haircuts and music in particular have an ’80s cringe factor, but you have to expect that sort of thing, and allow it to wash over you. If you can do that, and if you’re in the mood for some low budget Cannon Film (the sign of quality!) hijinx, then American Ninja 2: The Confrontation, dishes out all that could be expected from a film of its kind, and in fact, probably surpasses all expectations.

I cannot argue that this is a spy film, as our heroes are Army Rangers, rather than spies. However there are many familiar espionage tropes – particularly when our heroes storm the villains lair. The glass booths used by the Lion to create his new army of genetic SuperNinja could come out of any ’60s Eurospy flick (particularly Lightning Bolt).

Michael Dudikoff also starred in Avenging Force as a retired secret service operative.

Composer, George S. Clinton did the incidental music for Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery and its sequels.

American Ninja 2: The Confrontation (1987)