|Young martial artist Rain plays Raizo, a top assassin. (Juliana Malucelli/Warner Bros.)|
Tedious ‘Ninja’ wields a dull blade
The credits for “Ninja Assassin’’ list two screenwriters and one director. But it’s fair to say the movie has come straight out of a box. Cobbled together from the instructions of assorted Hong Kong gangster bloodbaths and whatever the French superproducer Luc Besson did last, this long, thanklessly repetitive slice-kick-and-shoot-’em-up has nothing to offer but the aggravating awareness that Jet Li and Jason Statham have done it better.
“Ninja Assassin’’ presents the young martial artist Rain. He has one name, one facial expression, and many ways to dodge a bullet. With a modicum of charisma, Rain plays Raizo, a top assassin who finds himself working against the ninja sect that trained him as a boy. As a man, Raizo is stealthy and taciturn, spending most of the movie headed toward various confusingly assembled, digitally enhanced showdowns set in such inevitable locations as empty warehouses and anonymous office buildings.
His partner for most of these chases is a Europol researcher in Berlin (Naomie Harris) who has just figured out that the ninjas are hired killers (for 100 pounds of gold, they’re yours). Now she and Raizo are both wanted - namely, by his head-ninja father (the esteemed martial artist Sho Kosugi). The movie doles out flashbacks to young Raizo’s ninja conscription (if you squint, a terrorist-recruitment angle materializes) and the traumatizing disappearance of the fellow ninja he loves.
Whenever the ninjas descend on Raizo, the soundtrack fills with jazzily hissed words: “traitor,’’ “vengeance,’’ “kill,’’ “bring him to father.’’ It’s like Bob Fosse night at the martial-arts studio. Most of the killing here is done with bladed throwing stars that, like the ninjas themselves, arrive from nowhere. They appear to have been used to edit the film as well.
“Ninja Assassin’’ was directed by a protégé of the Wachowski brothers, James McTeigue, who made the similarly incoherent “V for Vendetta.’’ This new movie is also driven by mayhem. But unlike “Vendetta’’ the source isn’t a graphic novel. It’s the filmmakers’ incompetence. “Ninja Assassin’’ showcases a half-comical, half-appalling indifference to common sense. At some point a medic shows up and examines someone with a gunshot wound. He doesn’t bat an eyelash at the gentleman who looks like he just finished the “Passion of the Christ’’ workout.
The whole film culminates in a long, wasteful session of shooting and slashing between the police and the ninjas. It may be the first grisly action sequence to be objectionable solely on the grounds that it’s boring.