'Ninja Assassin'

EntertainmentMoviesNinja Assassin (movie)Jackie ChanChicago TribuneGaming

Ninja hear the one about the assassin named Raizo, played by the Korean pop star and budding actor called Rain?

In "Ninja Assassin," which is numbingly gory when it isn't just plain numbing, this fellow rains down on his interchangeable adversaries like his own name. The script is pretty damp too. A deadly (duh) sect of super-secret ninjas (duh) known as the Ozunu Clan stakes a claim to the ownership of Raizo, trained from abusive childhood onward to become the most lethal of all the clan members. But he doesn't like the way they killed his sweetheart, so he bolts, goes undercover and eventually joins the Europol agent (Naomie Harris) who's stationed in Berlin and hot on the trail of several unsolved murders that seem like total ninja assassin handiwork.

No one expects much from a film like this, except R-rated bloodletting with some excitement to it. But director James McTeigue, who plodded his way through "V for Vendetta," has yet to show much facility for shaping action on-screen. McTeigue served as assistant director on all three "Matrix" films, as well as "Speed Racer," and here (according to press materials) the creative team was jazzed about the prospect of something different, something without a surfeit of wire work or digital fussing. The fight sequences rely on performers versed in the specialties of parkour (free running), and old-school Jackie Chan-y stunt wizardry.

And all that's a secret to the audience. The opening ninja attack is so insanely gory, with so many vivisections and severed limbs a-ploppin', you barely notice the people doing the stunts. Most of the violence in the rest of "Ninja Assassin" remains in the dark, so that what we see in bright light in the Big Opening is "implied" elsewhere. But McTeigue can barely shoot straight, and the editing is so hack-y, you have to take the stunts and fight choreography on faith.

How's Rain? He's fine. He suffers prettily. Harris is the best reason to keep watching, and although it's a tiny step forward to have the female lead in a film like this not treated like a piece of meat, the slaughter parade isn't much fun. According to the MPAA, the movie's R rating (which probably could've/should've been an NC-17) is for "strong bloody stylized violence throughout." Oh, it's stylized! I see. That's OK, then. The target audiences for "Ninja Assassin" have already spent weeks of their lives vivisecting bad guys on one gaming system or another, most of them without turning into sadistic killers in real life. So that's a comfort, even if "Ninja Assassin" isn't a good movie.

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