Written by: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
This is my third year engaging in the Annual CC2K April Fool’s Week, and in that time I’ve been forced to endure Mariah Carey in Glitter and the dulcet tones of Poison’s Greatest Hits. This year, I was asked to sit through 3 Ninjas, a movie that took me back to the magical nineties—1992 to be exact. As a female I was never interested in “boy” movies, ones that tended to involve karate or the quest for Babe Ruth’s baseball. Instead, I spent my time with the Baby-Sitter’s Club and seeing American Beauty at age eleven (I was a highly advanced child!).
So in sitting down with 3 Ninjas, I realized how severely screwed up I’d be if I watched this as a kid! There are so many unsafe situations that are openly touted as okay that I would have needed extensive amounts of therapy, as I’m sure the majority of children who rented this movie took advantage of. So I’m throwing out the things I learned from watching 3 Ninjas and the rules I would have had ingrained on my young psyche had I not been smarter.
Beforehand I might as well throw in the plot of 3 Ninjas just so everyone out there knows what we’re working with. Directed by Jon Turtletaub of National Treasure fame (you’ve come QUITE a long way Jon!), the movie follows three precocious boys—Rocky, Tom-Tom, and Colt, if we use their “ninja” names—as they learn the art of the ninja from their wise Japanese grandfather (although, strangely, not one of them has a single feature that looks Japanese). When the evil Snyder shows up and threatens their grandpa, the boys assume they’re living with a villain. Things are further complicated when Snyder sends in three Point Break rejects to go kidnap the boys…it’s like Home Alone with karate chops.
If a Man in a White Suit and Ponytail Comes Up to You He Wants to Kill You!
Villains are usually easy to spot in films: Europeans, guys with mustaches, smokers, etc. In 90s kids movies, the biggest indicator of a baddie was a guy rocking a white suit and a ponytail. If you don’t believe me, watch this and Kindergarten Cop and tell me they’re not someone to fear! In this movie, the villain Snyder is a smarmy, arrogant, kung-fu lover with a gaggle of ninjas, a sweet, slicked-down ponytail, and a white suit that’d make Don Johnson blush. To show just how much of a bad-ass Snyder is, there’s a wonderful scene where he’s conducting some type of business with a client and instead of merely opening the box sitting next to him—a fairly flimsy box mind you—he smashes it in with the power of his karate-chop action. My then four-year-old self would be shaking in my Jelly sandals!
911 is Never As Good as the Karate Skills You Learned At the Y!
The overall theme, the thesis of this movie, is that calling 911 is NEVER an option. You have about 15 high-risk situations involving death and young boys yet no one ever thinks to pick up a phone and call for a police presence! The opening of the movie has a group of hooded ninjas arrive at the grandfather’s house during a lovely dinner scene. Yet the boys feel that instead of calling for help, it would be easier to show off their talents. I don’t believe every ninja has the same skills as these kids who look to have been training for about four hours—and when your only weapon is a spork, I think you’re outnumbered. In that same scene you have Snyder, our bad guy, attempting to manipulate Grandpa. We learn RIGHT BEFORE this that Rocky, Tom-Tom, and Colt’s dad is an FBI agent and it’s assumed that Grandpa knows Snyder is bad (the man showed up with 30 ninjas for crying out loud!), so wouldn’t someone want to call Agent Dad or at least the cops to say there’s a trespasser? Of course not: Grandpa just lets him walk away! Even when Colt finds out Snyder is intertwined with their family, he’s asked numerous times if they should tell someone only for him to pout and say HELL NO (ok maybe not quite like that but it’s the same idea). Colt is by far the stupidest of the bunch in this situation; he’s quick to assume Grandpa is a villain set to kill them, yet he refuses to say anything and is distrustful of the police. It’s also an interesting contrast to have the boys be more than willing to fight off burglars, yet they’re pissing themselves when it comes to fending off 12-year-old BIKE THIEVES!
Dad’s a Bastard That Should Always Be Proved Wrong—ESPECIALLY if Your Life is at Risk
The most pervasive theme of 3 Ninjas, aside from following your heart, embracing your animal spirit, and ignoring the power of 911, is always sticking it to your dad! The boys’ father is the typical absentee workaholic father seen in any kids movie of the 90s (e.g. Jingle All the Way) who doesn’t want the kids to learn karate. When things go wrong and the bad guy appears, the kids don’t think to call their FBI agent dad—in fact Colt doesn’t even know what he dad does to emphasize how little time this guy spends with his kids. When Snyder actually confronts Grandpa, one of the kids—I forget which one, because those generic-looking early 90s kids tend to all look alike after awhile—actually has a moment of clarity and asks the other boys, “Do you think we should tell dad about that guy talking to Grandpa?” Of course they don’t because the movie would have ended in thirty minutes…dammit! When the surfer idiot bad guys make the attempt to kidnap the kids, instead of “calling dad” or anything smart like that, they attempt to show dad they possess kick-ass ninja skills and fend for themselves. Keep in mind these guys aren’t the smartest in the bunch, but any kid watching this who mildly detests their dad would think its ok to show off their skills against armed gunmen. To add insult to injury, the dad doesn’t punish these kids—AND he lets them keep doing karate. As a kid if I had even made that attempt, I’d have gotten a smack upside the head and grounded indefinitely.
Take Every Statement Literally…and Fearfully
The above rule is great to show to children who haven’t experience the internet as they’ll have a gay old time enjoying chat rooms and believing everything they read. The love interest of this movie—yes there is one—Emily, falls into this trap and probably would end up on a milk carton in a few years time. Throughout the movie young Emily and Rocky talk via their high-def tin-can radio, but when bad guy #1 learns “a girl” is on the other end he starts attempting to imitate Rocky to get her over to the house to use her as some type of leverage. Yeah this plot line sounds rife for an SVU episode. Of course Emily doesn’t think Rocky sounds any differently and goes right into the house, wearing fuzzy slippers and jammies to her doom! God forbid this girl ever wanders over to a chatroom or something because as soon as she meets a cute “12 year old boy” who wants to meet, she’s a goner! That’s not to say this rule is limited to children: a great scene has the babysitter showing complete incompetence by allowing her charges to possibly be slaughtered. The kidnappers arrive and decide to threaten the elderly babysitter and with what you say? Murder? Rape? No: they TP the house! “Oh please Mr. Kidnapper not the house! Kill the children, steal the valuables…just don’t cover the house in Cottonelle!”
Catching Grown Men with Their Pants Down is the Way to Go!
The rejects from Point Break are beyond ridiculous but the kids don’t help in this area at all! Taking a page directly from Home Alone instead of actually flaunting their ninja skills, the boys put Ex-Lax in the bad guys’ soda that they bring to the house—wait, what? Cut to the bad guys actually having the boys cornered, and getting a massive case of explosive diarrhea which supposedly unleashes the boys’ ninja skills. Not only is this fight extremely unfair—I mean the guys are stuck with their pants down and expelling their guts—but do you want to have to tell your parents the toilets backed up because you put Ex-Lax in the evildoers’ soda? I understand it’s meant to be a crude attempt at toilet humor (literally), but it’s just unhygienic! Yeah let’s kick a guy’s ass that has explosive diarrhea and it might actually end up on me?!
Anything Can Be Lucky, But Remember to Chew
The last rule is the most laughable as it attempts to take a page from inspirational kid’s film like The Karate Kid and fails utterly. In the big fight to the death between Grandpa and Snyder, a fight that would normally end with Grandpa dying of a heart attack before round 1, little Tom-Tom, gives his grandpa “lucky jellybeans.” These beans hold no luck whatsoever, they were merely jellybeans he found and shoved in his pocket for later, and Grandpa is going to die in front of little Tom-Tom—but hey linty jellybeans will totally save the day, I can just see the scene play out as Grandpa dies and the camera pans to an ever widening puddle of blood that surrounds the forgotten and possibly cursed jellybeans. To return to the fight in question, Grandpa is being strangled to death and is pretty much resigned to it when he drops the jellybeans into Snyder’s mouth. What’s more idiotic in this situation: That Grandpa has lost the will to live and has lost his grip on the magic beans…or that Snyder feels the need to fight with his mouth agape? Anyway Snyder for some strange reason doesn’t see the brightly colored beans right above his mouth and starts to choke, releasing Grandpa from his clutches. This episode says to children, “Always chew your food or else you won’t be able to slay an 89-year-old man!”
3 Ninjas is probably one of the stupidest kids movies of all time, filled with ridiculous clichés and even worse story development. From one madcap, semi-retarded situation to another, this movie offers nothing of value to children—other than rules that will probably get them killed, or at least get their asses kicked by the big bully in the third grade!
Author: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
Kristen Lopez is the editor-in-chief of CC2K and a freelance pop culture essayist. Her work has appeared on Roger Ebert, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Daily Beast. When she’s not burning down Film Twitter she runs two podcasts, the female-centric film show Citizen Dame, and the classic film-themed Ticklish Business.