Only small children with limited attention spans will be impressed by the lackluster kung-foolishness in “3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain.” Granted, this fourth episode in the kid-friendly franchise is a considerable improvement over its immediate predecessor, the dismally chintzy “3 Ninjas Knuckle Up” (filmed in 1992 but released in ’95). But even with a bigger budget, a few grownup “guest stars” and three new youngsters in the lead roles, “Mega Mountain” won’t amount to a hill of beans at the box office. On the other hand, given the series’ past track record, homevideo prospects are mildly bright.
Victor Wong, the only constant in all four “3 Ninjas” adventures, appears briefly in opening and closing scenes as the sagacious Grandpa Mori, a retired ninja who teaches fighting skills to his three grandchildren: 15-year-old Rocky (Mathew Botuchis), 14-year-old Colt (Michael J. O’Laskey II) and 8-year-old Tum Tum (J.P. Roeske II). All are apt pupils, but a bit too cocky for their own good.
The boys get a chance to test their abilities during an eventful trip to the Mega Mountain amusement park (actually Denver’s Elitch Gardens). They’re accompanied by their new neighbor, 13-year-old Amanda (Chelsey Earlywine), a bright, bespectacled girl who just happens to be a computer and electronics whiz. Better still, she’s the daughter of a Hollywood special-effects designer who often gives her samples of his work.
All of which comes in very handy when Mega Mountain is invaded by an army of ninjas led by Medusa (Loni Anderson), a haughty villainess who’s fond of dominatrix-style leather outfits, and Lothar (Jim Varney), her scarred and surly chief henchman. Medusa plans to take over Mega Mountain, commandeer the master control center and hold the patrons for a $ 10 million ransom.
The bad guys don’t count on the presence of Dave Dragon (Hulk Hogan), a faded TV star who’s making a farewell appearance at the park, and even the most skillful of Medusa’s ninja warriors are no match for three black-belted boys and a bright girl armed with smoke bombs and a palm-top computer.
Absurdly contrived and brazenly illogical, “Mega Mountain” abounds with glaring inconsistencies: Long after Medusa’s men fire automatic weapons to scare cops away from the main gates, guests continue to stroll leisurely about the park and line up for rides.
On the other hand, even pre-teens may find the bloodless martial-arts mayhem repetitious and unconvincing. The key to the success of the original “3 Ninjas” was that, like “Home Alone,” it provided fantasy fulfillment: Kids love to see other kids kick, punch and otherwise manhandle adults — and get way with it. Unfortunately, the action scenes here are neither cartoonish enough to be funny nor realistic enough to be viscerally exciting.
To his credit, director Sean McNamara, who co-wrote the “Die Hard”flavored script with Jeff Phillips, keeps the pic moving at a brisk clip. He also gets a surprisingly restrained performance from Varney, who, on the evidence of this and the recent indie “100 Proof,” would be well advised to move beyond his goofy Ernest character and find more bad-guy roles.
Anderson, who appears to have spent too much time in a tanning booth, strikes all the right poses but lacks sufficient zest. Hogan, former pro wrestling hero, then villain, appears to enjoy the opportunity to be a good guy once again. The kids are competent.
Tech values are polished enough to indicate “3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain” may have cost more to make than all three of its predecessors combined. Unfortunately, by this point the law of diminishing returns has caught up with the franchise.