“3 Ninjas Kick Back” clearly was made with an eye on the international movie market. Set mostly in Japan and adding a female ninja to the three boys, this high-spirited adventure succeeds in conveying the positive and fun elements of both Japanese and American cultures. This sequel may not be as big a bonanza as “3 Ninjas,” Disney’s 1992 sleeper hit, but TriStar should expect strong response from children of all ages.
The new adventure engages its three cute ninjas, Rocky (Sean Fox), Colt (Max Elliott Slade) and Tum Tum (Evan Bonifant), in two missions. Resourceful siblings have to help Grandpa Mori (Victor Wong) return to Japan to present a ceremonial dagger he had won half a century ago to the new winner of the Ninja tournament. And they have to return to L.A. on time to aid their baseball team, the Dragons, against the rival Mustangs.
In pursuit of the dagger, which is a key to a secret gold cave, Grandpa’s old enemy Koga (Sab Shimono) recruits a trio of spaced-out heavy metal rockers. Broadly played, and sporting outrageous wigs and costumes, they are more bumbling buffoons than villains, and provide the excuse for some hilarious fights and inventive physical comedy.
To broaden the story’s appeal, scripter Mark Saltzman shrewdly adds a young girl, Miyo (Caroline Junko King), whose skills let her teach the boys a lesson or two in the ninja arts. Miyo also becomes the romantic interest of Colt, the adolescent who begins to experience pangs of the heart.
A new bicultural and reconciliatory tone underlies “3 Ninjas Kick Back.” Some past American movies have portrayed aggressive competition and hostility toward Japan. This film, however, stresses the similarities of these countries and what kids of both cultures can learn from each other. Staying with Miyo’s family, the Americans get a geography lesson, eat Japanese food, improve their skills. Similarly, Miyo experiences firsthand icons of American culture.
Charles T. Kanganis, who has directed a number of serviceable actioners, knows that the crucial factors in such adventures are comic energy and swift tempo. Indeed, excepting a couple of superfluous scenes, like those involving the ninjas’ parents, pic benefits from kinetic wit and fast pacing.
Tech credits, notably the lensing and colorful production design, are most proficient.
Film’s moralistic dimensions are so well integrated into the narrative that they’re hardly noticeable. Still, as in “The Wizard of Oz,””The Secret Garden” andother classic fairy tales, younger viewers will get a flavor of a new and “dangerous” magical world with a healthy dosage of traditional family values, such as security of country and comfort of home.