Film review: 'Ninja Assassin' is way over the top

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 25 2009 12:00 a.m. MST

Naomie Harris as Mika and Rain as Raizo star in "Ninja Assassin."

Juliana Malucelli

NINJA ASSASSIN — ★★ — Rain, Naomie Harris, Ben Miles; rated R (violence, gore, profanity, torture, slurs, vulgarity, brief drugs); in general release

If a film that's as over-the-top violent and gory as "Ninja Assassin" can't get an NC-17 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America's ratings board, it's unlikely any film will.

In fact, in terms of explicit, violence, this particular feature puts both Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill" films and "Inglourious Basterds" to shame. And it more than equals the various "Saw" movies.

And yet, for a movie that's based on a video game, it's not half-bad. That is, if you're a moviegoer who can take a nearly constant assault on your sensibilities. And if you're the kind of moviegoer who's going for the action and not for storytelling.

"Ninja Assassin" features Korean pop-star-turned-martial-artist Rain, or Jeong Ji-Hoon, who plays the title character.

He's Raizo, an orphan who was sent at a young age to train with a ninja master, Ozunu (Sho Kosugi).

Ozunu's training methods were often cruel and dehumanizing, and Raizo, his most promising student, has recently broken away from the clan and has now gone rogue.

He's also the best chance for survival for Mika Coretti (Naomie Harris), a forensics investigator for an international police force. She's discovered that Ozunu's clan is being hired by world governments for killings, and that makes her their likely next target.

Director James McTeigue and his producers, the Wachowski brothers, hired a new screenwriter — J. Michael Straczynski — to re-do the script in a short time.

But this was allegedly done in less than three days and it bears none of the trademarks of Straczynski's usual, more cerebral works.

Instead, it's odd mix of the aforementioned, stomach-churning violence and possibly even more nauseating, treacly sentiment.

However, there's no denying that Wachowskis disciple McTeigue ("V for Vendetta") has a real talent for staging action scenes. The various ninja fight sequences are pretty breathtaking.

And the physical performances by the actors and stunt people are pretty incredible. The ripped, rock-hard Rain does well when he isn't forced to utter the silly dialogue.

"Ninja Assassin" is rated R and features strong, often-disturbing violent content and imagery (sword play, knife play, stabbings, slashings, gunplay and shootings, hand-to-hand combat, vehicular and explosive mayhem, and violence against women and children), graphic gore and bloody imagery, strong sexual profanity, scenes depicting torture and corporal punishment, derogatory language and slurs, a brief toilet gag, brief drug content (mostly ointments and salves). Running time: 99 minutes.

e-mail: jeff@desnews.com

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