American Ninja (1985) Review

"American Ninja" American Theatrical Poster

"American Ninja" American Theatrical Poster

Director: Sam Firstenberg
Producer: Yoram Globus, Menahem Golan
Cast: Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, Judie Aronson, Tadashi Yamashita, Guich Koock, John Fujioka, Don Stewart, John LaMotta, Phillip Brock, Tony Carreon, Roi Vinzon
Running Time: 95 min.

By Owlman

Directed by Sam Firstenberg (Revenge of the Ninja, Ninja III: The Domination), this 1985 film starred Michael Dudikoff as Joe Armstrong, an American soldier who has been trained well in the martial arts and uses those skills to fight a band of ninja mercenaries under the employ of Ortega (Don Stewart with a horrible French accent), an illegal arms trader.

Through a series of flashbacks, we see that Joe was orphaned at a young age, found by Shinyuki (John Fujioka), and raised by the old ninjitsu master. During those younger years, Joe was trained in the ways of the ninja. This intensive training of the body and mind apparently consisted of tree climbing and slicing coconuts. Once in a while, the sensei would pull out the weapons but I don’t think young Joe saw much kitana or shuriken time. No, it’s more tree climbing and coconut slicing for this young boy. Not exactly the stuff of ninja legends.

Anyway, after an explosion or something, young Joe ended up with a bit of amnesia which separated him from his sensei/surrogate father. After bouncing around some foster homes, he turns up in the Army.

Due to his brooding personality, Joe doesn’t quite get along with his fellow soldiers and gets harassed regularly, especially by Curtis “Bad Ass” Jackson (Steve James). A martial arts trainer for the Army, Curtis ends up in a scrap with Joe who easily bests him by tossing him around like a little hamster. After the fight, Joe earns the undying respect from Curtis and his fellow soldiers.

Joe also finds the time to romance the Colonel’s daughter, Patricia (Judie Aronson). Eventually, we discover that her father is part of a conspiracy to sell smuggled weapons from the Army through Ortega.

We also find out that Ortega has a massive ninja training camp, led by Black Star Ninja (Tadashi Yamashita), a real bad ass ninja. I don’t know what kind of training camp this is supposed to be but it can’t possibly be ninjas. This camp has ninjas dressed in some of the most ridiculous colours – bright blue ninjas and yellow ninjas are bouncing all over the place. Now, I usually think of ninjas as being all about stealth…y’know, smooth and silent killers that you don’t see and all that jazz. If a bright blue ninja is coming my way, I’m going to see him from a mile away, even without my glasses on. Maybe he’ll be all stealth when he’s in Smurfland but not in my neighbourhood.

Anyway, to make a long story short, Joe finds out that his sensei is the mute gardener of Ortega who trains him for the final battle. And what a battle it turns out to be! Joe shows up at Ortega’s complex, bitch slaps a bunch of people, and just when you think he’s backed himself into a corner, up comes Curtis Jackson with the rest of the Army crew to blast ninjas with some good ol’ guns.

The final fight with Black Star Ninja ends up being a farce as that bad ass ninja pulls out a bag of tricks worthy of Inspector Gadget – lasers and bullets from his wrist! That’s one hell of a Seiko watch that Black Star’s got on. Turns out to be useless though and the swords come out.

What’s Good About This Movie?

Not a whole lot. The fights, although very cool when I was 11 years old, look very dated now. In fact, they seem very poorly choreographed, especially when you see Steve James pull out his kung fu moves. The guy looks like he’s going to fall on his ass every time. The funky chicken dance would be more appropriate.

What’s Not Good About This Movie?

C’mon, read the summary – the movie is a laughable attempt at making a martial arts movie. The 80’s saw a bunch of really stupid ninja movies being made to cash in on the demand from snot nosed kids like me. This movie is one of them.


Like I said earlier, the movie was really cool when I was 11 years old. After watching it again recently on cable, I went through one of those “What the Hell Was I Thinking?” kind of phases.

Owlman’s Rating: 5/10

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2 Responses to American Ninja (1985) Review

  1. DougWonnacott says:

    I just saw this for the first time this weekend. I agree with everything you said, but despite that, I really enjoyed it. I’m up to part three and they’ve already used the same plot twice.

  2. jk says:

    i agree with the rating
    however you should have reviewed the second movie
    american ninja 2 is the kickass awesome movie in the series, one of my favorite movies
    parts 3 +4+5 are lame, part 1 is pretty average and doesnt seem as fresh

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