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It’s Child’s Play for Chris Farley : Pudgy, inept ninja knocks down the laughs in rapid succession.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Chris Farley is as subtle as a boulder rolling downhill, as sophisticated as a plate of fries with a side order of more fries.

This huge sputtering mass of insecurity leavened by huge good humor has turned out to be a favorite of kids, a group not known for its refined aesthetic. They’ve helped make the modest “Beverly Hills Ninja” a surprising comedy hit.

Why? Youngsters at a recent screening had a ready answer--Farley is a lot like them, only bigger. He’s funny, like a kid. He’s silly, like a kid. And he screws up more than a little, just like a kid.

“He looks like he can’t do stuff because he’s so dumb,” said Evan Gens, 12, from Garden Grove, “but then he does it anyway.”

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It was Farley’s can-do spirit in the face of great obstacles (a major-league waistline, a terrible haircut) that also impressed Maria Morales, 14, also from Garden Grove.

“He just comes across like an idiot [although] he tries so much,” she explained. “He’s ugly [yet] sort of cute too.”

“He’s like my little brother,” Evan added.

Farley’s appeal, and that of “Beverly Hills Ninja,” comes from something more basic than that for a lot of teens and preteens. What he does may be foolish, but he does it with a good deal of speed. His slapstick stunts, which make up the bulk of the movie, come at the audience in back-to-back spurts.

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Farley is remarkably quick, which doesn’t give his fans much time to worry about how good the gags are.

Freddie Smith, 11, of Westminster was almost breathless when asked to discuss Farley’s shenanigans.

“When he, when he was, when he . . ,” the boy sputtered, trying to nail down a favorite scene. “When he was [at the ninja academy] and kept [accidentally braining his fellow ninjas], I was just. . . .”

His father, Jason Smith, finished for him: “He was just losing it. He started doing this little jerky dance in the seat, he was having so much fun.”

And what was Dad’s appraisal of the movie? “Well, it’s OK to bring the kids to, but I had a hard time sitting through all of it,” he said. The bopping and banging never ends in this one, but the violence is more comic than intense.

In one scene, Farley drops his interest in mysticism and dances with some exotic dancers in a smoky bar. Not much bothersome nudity to fret over, unless you consider Farley’s midriff offensive. Most youngsters barely remembered that passage. What stuck with them were a couple of scenes: One finds Farley and sidekick Chris Rock getting doused in a carwash; the other puts Farley in a decidedly weird astral plane.

After communing with his guru through some spiritual projection, Farley returns to his body with a glass-shattering crash.

“That was hysterical,” said 16-year-old Ben Vanaman of Seal Beach. “He can’t do [anything] without breaking something.”

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One thing Ben didn’t find hysterical was the romance between Farley and Nicolette Sheridan, the socialist he helps rescue from the evil counterfeiter. Ben thought the love that develops between the two was unbelievable and boring.

“I know it was just a comedy, but why bring them together?” he complained. “It didn’t do anything” to hold his interest.

But Maria was intrigued by the relationship, even though it wasn’t crucial to her appreciation for the movie.

“He was cute,” Maria said, “so it was good that she liked him.”


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