Anybody looking at the cover of American Ninja 5 will probably think that this is a continuation of the the previous 4 movies. David Bradley is front and center on the cover and the title reads “American Ninja 5”. Behind him is a ninja holding a katana and there’s Pat Morita; Mr. Miyagi himself. Somehow they lured him into this franchise. There’s no sign of Michael Dudikoff or Steve James, but the franchise was already constantly switching up the cast ever since the third movie. But the actual truth is that American Ninja 5 isn’t an American Ninja movie…
To fully understand what we are dealing with here, we have to look at the different types of sequels that exist. Sequels can be divided into 3 categories:
- A movie that is conceived as a sequel to the previous movie in its entirety.
- A movie that is based upon an already existing unrelated book or script, which is then rewritten to become a sequel to a successful movie.
- A movie that has been entirely produced as an original movie, but released as a sequel to an existing movie. Basically it’s a sequel in name only.
The first two types can be great movies. The Empire Strikes Back was only written when Star Wars became a huge success. The same goes for all those Police Academy movies.
Die Hard 2 and Die Hard With A Vengeance are both based upon existing books and scripts that had nothing to do with John McClane and the original Die Hard at all. They retooled those stories to become Die Hard movies.
The third category often contains the worst and/or controversial movies. Since it’s often a last minute marketing decision these sequels are rare. A movie like Troll 2 is the quintessential example of the in name only sequel. American Ninja 5 also one of those rate movies that belong to this category.
Written and filmed as American Dragons, this movie was released as American Ninja 5. Probably because the movie stars David Bradley and features plenty of ninjas. This makes the movie an easy sell to audiences. Despite not being conceived as an American Ninja movie, the movie does have a lot of similarities with the rest of the franchise.
While David Bradley now plays a character named Joe instead of Sean, his persona is pretty much the same: a white guy who is good at martial arts. It’s a good thing they really underdeveloped his character throughout the movies, because now most people will not even notice. As Sean he was a tournament fighter in part 3 and a special agent in part 4. So him working in a gym and living on a boat seems pretty much in line with the established character.
His acting has become a bit better over the years, but it still won’t win him any awards. His martial arts skills on the other hand are great and there are plenty of times where he mimics Jean-Claude van Damme by doing things like the split. Losing the mullet also helps, because in the previous two American Ninja movies he looked like a bargain bin hardrock musician.
Things kick off when Sean has to housesit for Master Tetsu (Pat Morita). Much to his surprise the housesitting also includes babysitting Tetsu’s grandnephew Hiro (Lee Reyes). Annoyed by this he takes Hiro on his dinner date with the cute Lisa (Anne Dupont) who he met at the marina earlier that day. But before they can take a bite ninjas appear and kidnap Lisa. Sean and Hiro immediately go in pursuit and end up in Venezuela.
Lisa has been kidnapped by Glock, a ruthless CEO of a company that employs Lisa’s father, Dr. Strobel. He’s a scientist working on a pesticide. A pesticide Glock wants to convert into a nerve agent and sell to General Zubino. When Dr. Strobel refuses to participate Glock uses his daughter as leverage, forcing Strobel to comply. It’s up to Joe and Hiro to save the day.
The plot is fairly similar to the previous American Ninja movies. A rich guy is trying to create and sell some kind of weapon while employing an army of ninjas. That is the gist of all of these American Ninja movies. The difference now is that it has absolutely no ties to the previous movies. The only holdover is David Bradley and even he is now called Joe instead of Sean.
The main difference is that the tone is much lighter. Especially with the addition of the kid-sidekick in the form of Hiro. In the first two acts he serves as both the comic relief as well as Joe’s guardian angel who helps him whenever he’s in a tight spot. Hiro is the Short-Round of the American Ninja movies. After learning the way of the ninja in the most silly way possible, Hiro becomes Joe’s partner in combat during the final act taking on plenty of ninjas by himself.
It’s kind of funny how much this movie feels like an American Ninja movie, without ever being developed as one. It might not have an R-rating, but the fights feels mostly the same. The only thing missing is seeing people get stabbed or hit with a shuriken. There’s a scene in which Joe is able to outrun and evade gunfire as the bad guys are emptying their automatic weapons on him. The bad guys seem to have walked off the set of the A-Team and right onto this one. Scenes like these are a staple of the American Ninja franchise. The only difference is that this movie doesn’t take itself as serious as the previous four movies.
American Ninja 5 also has the same flaws as the rest of the movies. The whole rich evil guy with his own compound and an army of ninjas is becoming quite tiresome after 8 years and 5 movies. The detail to production is on par with the second movie where goofs are easy to point out. Even to the untrained eye. Stuntmen looking nothing like the guy they’re standing in for or Strobel’s glasses that appear and disappear multiple times during a scene. It’s stupid, but also part of what gives these movies a certain charm.
With American Ninja 5 the series comes to an unceremonious end. Released during the final grasps of Cannon pictures this is a straight to video release that hasn’t even been given a Blu-Ray release. In order to see this movie I had to dive back into the Pirate Bay and download a 4:3 DVD rip. So I’m not expecting a 4K release any time soon.
American Ninja 5 is a lighthearted action movie with ninjas that seems to have obtained their outfits from the pajama section in a local clothing store. There is a lot of focus on ninja magic, especially appearing and disappearing under the guise of smoke pellets. Maybe a certain 1989 hit movie starring a bat-themed superhero might have had something to do with that.
The bad guys seem to be more cartoonish this time around and the movie is geared more towards kids. The Viper, the super ninja of this movie, looks rather goofy in his outfit and makes no impression at all. He looks like he belongs in a 1970s Marvel Comics TV production like Doctor Strange or The Incredible Hulk.
The character of Hiro is the protagonist for the younger audience. He is both the best and most annoying part of the movie. While a character like Short-Round was kept consistent in terms on tone throughout Temple of Doom, Hiro is all over the place. In one scene he’s the kid with the snappy dialogue, in the next his pretending his Sega Game Gear is a machine gun and making gun shot noises while other people are fighting for their lives. Read the room kiddo.
American Ninja 5 is the kid-friendly version of the American Ninja movies. Despite being at least 20 minutes too long, it’s the most fun sequel in the series. In the previous movies only Steve James seemed to realize what kind of movie he’s in. In American Ninja 5 everybody is in on the joke.