Beverly Hills Ninja (1997) TriStar/Action-Comedy RT: 89 minutes Rated PG-13 (sex-related humor, martial arts violence, a humorous drug-related scene) Director: Dennis Dugan Screenplay: Mark Feldberg and Mitch Klebanoff Music: George S. Clinton Cinematography: Arthur Albert Release date: January 17, 1997 (US) Cast: Chris Farley, Nicollette Sheridan, Robin Shou, Nathaniel Parker, Chris Rock, Soon-Tek Oh, Keith Cooke Hirabayashi, Will Sasso, Francois Chau, Patrick Breen. Box Office: $31.2 million (US)
Sometimes a movie is so damn silly and stupid that you have to laugh. That’s a perfectly apt description of Beverly Hills Ninja, a slapstick action-comedy starring the late Chris Farley in the title role. While it’s the last of his movies to be released in his lifetime (he died of a drug overdose in Dec. ’97), it’s not his swan song. That would be the abysmal historical comedy Almost Heroes released in May ’98. Farley was a funny guy; he had a real gift for physical humor. Beverly Hills Ninja is a nice showcase for it. He falls down, crashes into things, knocks stuff over, destroys priceless objects, unintentionally hurts others and has things dropped on his head. He typically played good-natured but dim characters as he does here. My favorite movie of his is Tommy Boy (1995), but Beverly Hills Ninja ranks a very close second. For one thing, I LOVE the title! I often conceive movie ideas when trying to fall asleep; I thought of this same title back in the 80s as a vehicle for Dana Carvey and Sho Kosugi. I should really start writing down these things. Besides that, Beverly Hills Ninja is also legitimately funny. Mindless but funny. That’s ALWAYS a strong selling point for comedies.
A clan of ninjas finds a baby boy in a treasure chest that washes ashore near their temple. One of their ancient legends speaks of a “Great White Ninja”, a white man that would become a ninja master. As you’ve no doubt already guessed, Haru (Farley) is NOT the legendary Great White Ninja. Despite being completely clumsy and inept, he doesn’t stop trying. One night while the others are out on an exercise, a woman identifying herself as Sally Jones (Sheridan, Knots Landing) shows up looking for a ninja to follow her boyfriend Martin Tanley (Parker, 1990’s Hamlet). She thinks he’s into something illegal and asks Haru to investigate. Turns out she’s right; he’s involved in money counterfeiting. Thinking that Sally is in danger, Haru asks his master (Oh, Missing in Action 2) for permission to go search for her in Beverly Hills. The master secretly sends Haru’s adoptive brother Gobei (Shou, Mortal Kombat) to watch over and protect him without being seen. All sorts of martial arts silliness and tomfoolery ensue as Haru tries to bring down Tanley and the counterfeiting ring.
I guess Farley’s usual sidekick David Spade wasn’t available as another SNL colleague Chris Rock assumes the role. He plays a hotel bellhop that wants to be a ninja. He’s good, but a large personality like Farley’s needs a straight man like Spade to balance things out. That description so does NOT apply to Rock, a fast-talker with a mischievous smile. He’ll never be a ninja master, but he’s definitely a master of BS. As you can see, Beverly Hills Ninja isn’t exactly a cerebral film. It’s as dumb as they come. What’s more, it seems proud of how dumb it is. But it works nonetheless thanks to Farley. He’s like a cross between John Belushi and John Candy. He’s a loveable goofball with an anarchic spirit. It helps that Dennis Dugan is a capable director of comedies- e.g. Happy Gilmore, Grown Ups and the criminally underrated Brain Donors. As Haru’s love interest, Sheridan is okay. She’s an attractive lady, but a comedienne she’s not. She’s strictly ornamental. Will Sasso (MADtv) contributes a funny bit as a criminal associate of Tanley’s. Some of the gags in Beverly Hills Ninja are obvious. If the hero plans to use a drug to get the truth out of a bad guy (in this case, it’s a ground-up mushroom), it’s a safe bet that everybody in the room including the hero will ingest the drug and the scene will end with all of them laughing hysterically. Beverly Hills Ninja isn’t without its flaws, but it has enough laughs that it’s easy to overlook them. The movie does what it sets out to do, it entertains and amuses. You can’t ask for much more than that.