November 27, 2009 in Features

‘Ninja Assassin’ fails to prop genre

Roger Moore Orlando Sentinel
 

In Japan, where the blades are shiny and sharp and if the fake blood isn’t staining the lens, you’re not trying hard enough, there’ s a rich tradition of sword-and-splatter pictures.

That’s the tradition Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” leaned on, and it’s the foundation of “Ninja Assassin,” a more run-of-the-mill Hollywood ninja movie with “Matrix” ties.

For a thousand years, The Nine Clans have taken in orphans from around the world and have forged – OK, literally beaten – them into cold-blooded killing machines.

Meet their price – “100 pounds of gold” – and they’ll kill anybody you say.

Raizo (the Korean actor Rain of “Speed Racer”) remembers this brutal training in flashbacks. He wears the scars of those years on that mountaintop clan hideout.

But he got out. Now hiding in Berlin, he tries to help those the clan has marked for death.

Naomie Harris (“Pirates of the Caribbean”) is a Euro-police researcher who has learned too much about these secret societies. As she digs deeper, shadows shift and move into place to slice and dice her.

Will Raizo awaken from his endless flashbacks in time to save her?

The action is dark and savage in this Wachowski Brothers-produced film from their “Matrix” protege James McTeigue (“V for Vendetta”).

The brawls, beginning with an opening Yakuza (Japanese mob) slaughter in which we can’t even see the killers, are graphic in the extreme – the most realistic decapitations and dismemberments ever filmed, if that matters to you.

Rain makes a charismatic coiled spring of hero. But there’s more to making sword-and-splatter work than just shiny blades and blood. It’s got to have an edge, and the one on “Ninja Assassin” is dull as a butter knife.


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