Film review: Beverly Hills Ninja

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 28 1997 12:00 a.m. MST

See if this sounds terribly familiar: an overweight "Saturday Night Live" star in Japanese fighting apparel, brandishing all types of weapons for comedic effect.

At first it sounds like the idea behind John Belushi's "Samurai" sketches for the NBC television series. But it's also the premise for "Beverly Hills Ninja," an extremely unfunny vehicle for Chris Farley, who keeps making us forget "Tommy Boy" with each new project he undertakes.

While Belushi waving a samurai sword about and menacing guest host Buck Henry - all the time parodying Toshiro Mifune's mumbled delivery - could be amusing for a few minutes, Farley's new movie makes the mistake of stret-ching its already thin material well over an hour.

And instead of using verbal gags like Belushi did, Farley takes the opposite approach here. Like a bull in a china shop, he proceeds to break almost everything in sight and hit his head on any objects he doesn't manage to shatter with the rest of his girth.

Farley stars as Haru, an orphan who winds up in the Takaguru dojo, a teaching facility for the elusive ninjas. But despite one-on-one attention from his teacher, Sensei (Soon-Tek Oh), and his adopted brother, the accomplished martial artist Gobei (Robin Shou, from "Mortal Kombat"), Haru stumbles through his training exercises.

But the clumsy Haru is lured to Beverly Hills by Alison Page (Nicollette Sheridan), who asks him to shadow her boyfriend Martin Tanley (Nathaniel Parker), a shady businessman who has killed one of his former partners and framed Haru for the deed.

Unknown to Haru, Sensei has sent Gobei to secretly protect him and ensure that he accomplishes his mission. Meanwhile, the boastful Haru has managed to take a student under his wing, Joey (Chris Rock), a malingering bellboy.

Of course, this all leads to a martial-arts showdown, which isn't particularly thrilling or memorable, due to Dennis Dugan's clunky direction. Dugan ("Happy Gil-more") seems to have no idea about how to sustain suspense, and his static pacing makes the film seem much longer than its 90 minutes.

The other huge problem is Farley. Instead of making his awkwardness subtle or even endearing - remember how Peter Sellers could make clumsiness funny as Inspector Clouseau in the "Pink Panther" movies? - he tries to get by on big pratfalls and volume.

All this bellowing even extends to co-star Rock, who is as irritating here as he's ever been.

As for his other co-stars, they just watch impatiently or in em-barrassment at the mayhem, especially Shou and Oh, both of whom deserve much better than this.

"Beverly Hills Ninja" is rated PG-13 for violent martial-arts action and some gunfights, a few vulgar gags and sexual innuendos, a couple of scattered profanities and a brief scene involving drug use.