Pocket Ninjas (1997) — Ninjas, rollerblades, and montages

“Aww, buttwhiff!”

Justin’s rating: Martial arts dojos are the haunted houses of people with a fear of bare feet

Justin’s review: There was a good stretch of time during which kids honestly thought that “ninja” was a legitimate profession worth pursuing. This didn’t work out well for a lot of Gen X and Millennials who discovered that a lot of corporations didn’t respond well to “pointy star throwing” and “I own a set of black pajamas” on résumés. I blame these poor career choices on movies like Pocket Ninjas, where being able to high-kick could solve almost every problem.

You, probably like me, made a lot of assumptions when you first looked at the poster of Pocket Ninjas, what with its trio of puberty-stricken youthsters in karate outfits, and figured that you were in for an hour and a half of wholesome but normal action hijinks. What you wouldn’t expect is how weird — and how bad — it was about to get.

By minute two, karate dojo leader White Dragon (who has a ponytail, sounds Australian, and probably goes by “Todd” on the weekends) informs his three star pupils that there’s a darkness gathering in the town that will eventually wipe out everyone. Not sure how Dragon-san knows this — perhaps being a dojo leader comes with a subscription to conspiracy websites. This darkness is the result of a gang led by “Cobra Khan,” which sounds like a fourth-rate Ninja Turtles villain. His gang isn’t much more threatening; it’s mostly out-of-work paintball enthusiasts who wear shirts without sleeves and threaten people with, er, road flares.

The only one who can fight against this terrible road flare-affluent gang is the White Dragon himself. Naturally, he really isn’t up for this task. So he passes on the power of the dragon to three kids. I don’t know what kind of permission slip you need for something like this, but I bet their parents didn’t sign one. They each get a very dorky mask that makes them look like they raided a discount Halloween outlet, and we’re off to great adventures.

I usually don’t have problem stretching my believability to accept ludicrous movie concepts, but something in my head snapped when I witnessed three kabuki mask-wearing kids rollerblade in and start kicking bad guys in the face. With rollerblades. Such is the power of the Dragon, I guess. The bad guys, led by a little kid (!), decide that they need a training montage of their own to help them prepare for battle, and trust me when I say that it is the most adorable thing ever. Chipper ’90s music plays as absolutely nobody on screen demonstrates that they know a single thing about martial arts.

Then there’s a whole scene where everyone fights in a circus room full of balloons, popping them and making faces at each other. There’s another where everyone squares off in virtual reality as the actors pretend that they’re in a video game. The kids have this running argument over whether girls or guys are better. White Dragon falls in love with one of kids pupil’s mommies. At one point — and I am seriously not making this up — the good guy and the the bad guy play patty-cake with each other. None of this makes any sense either narratively or tonally, so you’re left confused and sobbing quietly while your former understanding of reality dissolves.

Filmed in 1994 but released in 1997, Pocket Ninjas should have considered a longer delay. Maybe seven or eight more decades would have been a better idea. This film honestly couldn’t have been worse if someone attempted to do that on purpose. It’s constantly trying to reach for that extreme youngster audience with a whole lot of silliness, but it ends up overshooting into something that isn’t mature enough even for newborns.

Nothing, absolutely nothing — acting, editing, story, combat, humor, montages — works. Not even a little bit. So if you ever hit rock bottom in your life, you need to watch this so you know something is right down there with you.

Didja notice?

  • So they choke the old guy with his crutch, then torture him with a road flare while a kabuki guy somersaults in?
  • These opening credits last forever! By nine minutes into this, we finally arrive at the title of the film.
  • Throwing high kicks while wearing rollerblades never looked so possible
  • The bad guy’s eyeroll when meeting with his minions
  • And now for the terrible bad guy training montage
  • Dancing is part of martial arts training
  • White Dragon’s karate gi is the most American gi ever
  • A comic in a different language! Canadian, perhaps?
  • The bad guy clowns and people kicking balloons and beating their chests
  • Women are superior to men! And fat Republicans!
  • I don’t think you can legitimately be threatening while wielding a bright red and bright blue bat
  • Ah the “hide in the garbage can and tip toe” gambit
  • Why are the kid surprised he’s the White Dragon… when he told them earlier in the movie he was?
  • The bad guys tossing a grenade around for fun
  • Those people were trying to invade her space bubble!
  • This movie taught me that you can play a GameBoy without a game in it
  • And now for some abrupt inner monologues about two people falling in love: “Her hair is like a waterfall in sunlight!”
  • Girls can be lured by a coupon on a fishing line

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