The Scoop: 1997 PG-13, directed by Dennis Dugan and starring Chris Farley, Nicollette Sheridan and Chris Rock
Tagline: Kung fool!
Summary Capsule: As far as I can tell, the directors got Chris Farley hopped up on something — sugar? — and turned him loose on sets like a bull in a china shop.
Justin’s Rating: Some people leave behind legacies. Chris Farley left behind this.
Justin’s Review: Pop culture is a funny thing. It’s the essential trump card when it comes to replacing fact with complete made-up horsecrap, and yet it has a much better PR manager than history does. Real pirates? Dirty, loathsome, murdering thieves who you’d never once want to meet in real life, never mind emulate. Pop culture pirates? Hey, Johnny Depp makes them look awesome and suave and strangely quotable, so let’s just cling to that!
Likewise with ninja. When I was a kid, I was big into the whole ninja thing, mostly because Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were all the rage (those lean green fightin’ machines). One day I picked up a book on ninja at a garage sale, only to quickly discover that this wasn’t the pop culture version of ninja – you know, the kind that are super-awesome at everything, pop out of the shadows, and fight evil everywhere it rears its ugly head – but the historical ninja. Who, it turns out, were pretty nasty folks, usually from the unwashed lower class, and were more into assassination and terrorism than fighting off villains from Dimension X. Their use of dirty fighting tactics and a penchant for hiding their true identity made them pretty reviled in their time – almost as dishonorable as you could get.
But hey, pop culture triumphs over these petty facts, and that leads us straight to Chris Farley assuming the ninja legend, which ended well for no one.
My wife, who loathes Army of Darkness, has never, not once in her life, found Monty Python amusing, and who sat stone-faced through the entirety of This is Spinal Tap, considers Chris Farley to be the zenith of comedic excellence. This is a fact that I did not discover until a couple years into our marriage, when I suggested we watch Black Sheep and she let out a literal, ear-shattering squee of pleasure. That staggered me, as she did not mention her love of the “Farl” in our wedding vows. She actually got mad at me last week when she discovered that Farley made a ninja comedy and I had somehow never told her, and demanded we rent it, right then and there.
Some things you do to preserve your marriage. Married people, you understand.
Beverly Hills Ninja is one of those movies that you can easily deduce the content by just looking at the poster. It’s got a “wacky” name, so subtle, this will be not. It has Chris Farley doing some sort of bizarre jump punch with his legs out the side, so you know it’s going to be a lot of physical comedy. And the best recommendation quote they could get was “lively and funny” from the LA Times, so you know that people weren’t exactly tripping over each other to praise this film.
Reportedly, Chris Farley himself was less-than-pleased with the end result, as he felt as though it went far too overboard with the slapstick physical humor and made him look buffoonish. More than usual, I mean. I’d have to agree here – we know that Farley wasn’t just a one-note comedian, and while manic physical humor was always a big part of his thing, Tommy Boy and Black Sheep proved that he could excel in verbal wit, provided that he was given a partner who was up to the task.
Unfortunately, Beverly Hills Ninja is primarily a solo effort, so there’s really no one on screen being sarcastic back to Haru (Farley) or telling him what an idiot he is. It’s just an hour and a half of a fish-out-of-water story, as a fat white boy, who was raised by ninja in Japan, goes to Beverly Hills to solve a mystery on behalf of the worst female actor of all time (Nicollette Sheridan, who spends half her screen time tied up but unfortunately not gagged). Like Mr. Magoo and Scooby Doo, his bumbling only produces success, not failure, and somehow thwarts the bad guys’ plan.
Sure, there are amusing parts, glimmers of hope and potential that are never realized. My wife found it pretty funny (if someone falls down on screen and/or gets hit with a giant fish, her day is made), but I just endured. Movies that give themselves hernias because they’re straining so hard to be funny – and fail to get anywhere near that – are tiring to watch. I mean, here’s a film that considers the best kind of comedy in throwing in not just one, but two separate versions of “Kung Fu Fighting”, a song that should require a stiff fine from any martial arts movie that ever dares to use it.
And Chris Rock kind of freaked me out, both by being completely unfunny (which is a switch) and by smiling maniacally in almost every scene he’s in. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he suddenly turned around and bit someone’s eyes out after that.
So I guess I’m not turning Japanese, I really don’t think so. This movie is a blight upon ninja, real and re-imagined.
- Chris Farley was injured on the set while doing one of his own stunts. (The scene where he is trying to hide like a ninja and jumps through the wall.)
- This film was originally written for Dana Carvey
Haru: I have traveled many miles and now have come disguised as a pimp to help you.
Haru: Hey, you hear the one about the lady who backed into a fan? It was a disaster. “Dis-assed” her.
Haru: I am one with the universe. I am one with the universe.
[Sees a stripper]
Haru: NO I AM NOT.
Haru: I am sure you would like to know who I am and what I do, but as part of my creed, I cannot tell you. See my identity must remain mysterious and my mission secret, I cannot reveal it to you.
Boy: Why not?
Haru: Because I would then have to kill you.
Haru: That is impossible. My ninja intuition tells me this!
Sensei: Haru, you do not have ninja intuition! You do not even have NORMAL intuition!
If You Liked This Movie, Try These:
- The Naked Gun
- Tommy Boy