The third time isn't the charm for this latest adventure of the pint-size chopsocky heroes. TriStar is going through the motions with token theatrical exposure -- pic opened March 10 in regional release -- but it won't be long before this uninspired installment in the kidpic series hits the video shelves. "3 Ninjas Knuckle Up" actually was filmed before "3 Ninjas Kick Back," last year's sequel to the 1992 sleeper hit "3 Ninjas."

The third time isn’t the charm for this latest adventure of the pint-size chopsocky heroes. TriStar is going through the motions with token theatrical exposure — pic opened March 10 in regional release — but it won’t be long before this uninspired installment in the kidpic series hits the video shelves. “3 Ninjas Knuckle Up” actually was filmed before “3 Ninjas Kick Back,” last year’s sequel to the 1992 sleeper hit “3 Ninjas.” (That explains why Michael Treanor and Chad Power — two child actors who appeared in the first pic but were replaced in “Kick Back”– reappear in this outing.) “Kick Back” turned out to be a B.O. disappointment, but it’s still easy to see why TriStar thought it would be a safe bet to extend the franchise.

“Knuckle Up” (which bears a 1992 copyright date) is thoroughly second-rate in all regards, with slapdash production values, cartoonish performances, by-the-numbers scripting and ridiculous martial-arts fight scenes that won’t convince any youngster old enough to watch “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.”

Korean-born helmer Simon S. Sheen (who also directed the first “3 Ninjas”) tries to liven up the sequel with a lot of Three Stooges-style slapstick. But the silliness is strained and witless.

Once again, brothers Rocky (Treanor), Tum Tum (Power) and Colt (Max Elliott Slade, the only youngster to appear in all three pix), spend an eventful summer vacation with their Grandpa Mori (Victor Wong), a sage martial arts instructor. And once again, the boys have ample opportunity to kick, chop and generally brutalize many villainous adults.

Alex S. Kim’s formulaic script has the young heroes defending a Native American tribe against a ruthless businessman (Charles Napier) who’s dumping toxic waste on their land. Naturally, the businessman uses brutal thugs and corrupt city officials to keep the Native Americans in line. Just as naturally, Rocky, Colt and Tum Tum — with some occasional help from their grandfather and his stunt double — are more than a match for all the bad guys. Even at just 85 minutes, “3 Ninjas Knuckle Up” seems awfully padded. There’s barely enough plot for a half-hour episode of a weekly TV series spinoff. And there’s even less here in terms of acting, writing and filmmaking polish to appeal to anyone over the age of 10.

3 Ninjas Knuckle Up

Production

A TriStar Pictures release of a Sheen Production. Produced by Martha Chang. Executive producer, James Kang. Directed by Simon S. Sheen. Screenplay, Alex S. Kim.

Crew

Camera (color), Eugene Shlugleit; editor, Pam Choules; music, Gary Stevan Scott; production design, Don Day; costumes, Scillia A. Hernandez; sound (Dolby), Bill Robbins; assistant directors, Scott Harris, Eric Small, Thomas B. Park; casting, Gary Oberst. Reviewed at AMC Town & Country 10, Houston, March 10, 1995. MPAA rating: PG. Running time: 85 MIN.

With

Grandpa Mori - Victor Wong
Jack - Charles Napier
Rocky - Michael Treanor
Colt - Max Elliott Slade
Tum Tum - Chad Power
Jo - Crystle Lightning
J.J. - Patrick Kilpatrick
Charlie - Donald L. Shanks
Lee - Sheldon Peters
Wolfchild Chief Roundcreek - Nickolas G. Ramus
Mayor - Vincent Schiavelli

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