“That damn American ninja. Fights like a tiger. We’ll have to get rid of him.”
The opening credits of AMERICAN NINJA 2: THE CONFRONTATION feature a badass theme song (composer George S. Clinton, who had already done AVENGING FORCE for Cannon and Dudikoff, joins the series) as three dudes confidently cruise on their motorcycles, journeying through mountain roads. They’re wearing tinted helmets, so we wonder if this is Joe Armstrong, the American Ninja, and some other Army guys? Is it some scary villains he’s gonna have to face? Who is it?
They turn out to be some weinery dudes who drive up to a bar and immediately get bullied. One of them, Tommy Taylor (Jonathan Pienaar, BLOOD DIAMOND), steps away and cowers nearby while his friends get beaten up, and then all the sudden a bunch of ninjas walk in and carry them away.
In this enjoyable sequel Joe (Michael Dudikoff) and Curtis Jackson (Steve James) are still best friends, and still in the Army, now as Rangers. They seem to receive more respect now, and maybe I’m naive but when they’re sent on the mission that the last guys (the guys at the bar) disappeared on it really seems to be because of faith in their abilities, not to get rid of them.
They’re sent to a weird spot on a Caribbean island where a bunch of U.S. Marines live like beach bums with a beautiful view of the coast, plenty of surfing and nude beaches (Curtis is particularly excited about this), but they don’t end up having time to partake. They don’t know about the guy involved in the last guys’ disappearance and that he’s gonna set them up next.
Wouldn’t that be a weird night at the bar if you saw ninjas come in and carry somebody away? (There’s actually a kid named Toto who sees it, hiding behind the pinball machine.)
I respect this movie for not skimping on the ninja shit. Part 1 had ninjas in the jungle, but here they show up and fight in urban areas, in broad daylight, in full costume, sometimes with civilian witnesses.
So much for shadow warriors. But they got the whole Cannon ninja arsenal: swords, darts, throwing stars, arrows, grappling hooks, hanging upside down, a lead ninja with distinguishing eye markings, a training facility with some ninjas in different colored costumes. Actually this time it’s a laboratory where a white-suited drug kingpin called The Lion (Gary Conway, I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN, Land of the Giants) has forced a kidnapped scientist (Ralph Draper, KILL AND KILL AGAIN) to turn the abducted Marines into brainwashed “Super ninjas” – “Strong, obedient, heartless, and as many of them as we want.” The next generation are gonna have metal skeletons. And there’s a pretty cool logo for them that’s a lion head with a throwing star over its eye.
That’s one thing about these evil geniuses. If they can afford an island they can afford a good graphic designer too, so they’re gonna have a cool symbol.
By the way, this all happens at a place called Blackbeard Island! Maybe I should’ve saved that information for the end of the review, ’cause if I was you that would make me stop reading and go find the movie.
There is a security disadvantage to having ninjas walking around openly on Blackbeard Island. Joe and the scientist’s daughter (Michelle Botes, SNAKE DANCER) are able to just walk around the laboratory with a tour group and nobody pays any attention to them, even though she seems to be the smallest – and only female – ninja on the whole island.
There are some colorful supporting characters. The commanding officer is named Wild Bill (Jeff Weston, PUPPET MASTER II). This is him in his office:
And they didn’t just catch him at a bad time, that’s what he always looks like. So this is kind of a different situation than what they’re used to in the Army. But if there’s anything that Rangers know it’s how to adapt, so while this is how they look the first time they talk to him:
…this is them after they’ve had a day to settle in and learn the local customs:
Toto is kind of a Short Round character, a kid in a funny hat who sometimes drives for them and makes them pay for information and stuff. Actually he would’ve gotten along well with Antoine Doinel circa 400 BLOWS.
In the Black Star Ninja type role is a new lead ninja called Tojo Ken. During the first big ninja fight he actually just observes, which is way more intimidating than if he fought. Joe uses a pole to throw several ninjas over the side of a big rock and then all the sudden he looks up and…
Oh shit! That shot comes in real quick, with a gong sound! Another one of those little moments that reminds you of why you watch ninja movies. Tojo Ken is played by Mike Stone, who possibly started the ninja fad when he brought his original screenplay for ENTER THE NINJA to Cannon. He’s also the fight choreographer for ENTER THE NINJA, AMERICAN NINJAs 1-4, and one called TIGERSHARK which it seems like might not even be on video, but he stars in it and wrote it with Ivan Rogers. Before he became Cannon’s go-to ninja expert he was a karate champion, undefeated in 91 matches, Black Belt Hall of Famer and stunt double for Dean Martin in THE WRECKING CREW.
And let me tell you something else about Mike Stone. He won the 1967 Mainland vs. Hawaii Karate Championships promoted by Ed Parker, where he met Elvis and Priscilla Presley while they were in Hawaii on their honeymoon. Working as Phil Spector’s bodyguard, Stone ran into Elvis again in Vegas in ’72 and hung out with him, and Elvis told Priscilla she should have Stone train her in karate. It was a long-ass drive to his school though, so she decided to train with Chuck Norris (TOP DOG) instead. But Stone would drive up to the school to help, and he’d take Priscilla to karate tournaments, and to make a long story short she left her husband, THE FUCKING KING OF ROCK ‘N ROLL, to be with Mike Stone for a few years. That is why the American Ninjas should fear Tojo Ken. He defeated Elvis’s Hound Doggy Style TCB Karate.
(This information comes from a 1998 Black Belt Magazine article I found linked from Wikipedia. The article also notes that Stone and Norris got Priscilla interested in the ZATOICHI movies.)
Joe’s first encounter with the Super Ninjas is on a beach where he gets ambushed and manages to beat up and disarm a whole bunch of them. A big part of being a ninja seems to be re-using other ninjas’ weapons against them. You gotta learn to catch arrows and blow darts, or pull throwing stars out of things to throw back at their throwers.
Later Curtis shows up with a hooked pole from a boat and takes on a bunch more of them. Later there’s an unfair comment when Tojo Ken says “They fight like professionals. One of them could almost be a ninja.”
One of them? It’s just not a level playing field. If you’re African American you have to be twice as much like a ninja just to be acknowledged as half as good of a ninja.
Another ambush happens in a loft apartment above the bar. My favorite Joe move is when he does a flying kick over a railing into the lead tough, knocking him through the door, across the hall and through another door.
(There should be a joke where the other door has the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the knob.)
There’s also a good one where Joe and others are in a truck trying to get rid of a pesky ninja who hooks on with a grappling hook and gets dragged for a long time. It’s kind of a reversal of a scene in part 1. From this perspective the ninja pursuer seems like a T-1000. Once he gets onto the hood they have to all jump out and crash the truck into a gas station. (It’s weird that it blows up before the truck actually hits it.)
Like in the first one, Joe goes to face off with the bad guys and then Curtis shows up later with a Rambo headband and an army. This time it’s Marines, and they’re late because of the fuckin red tape, man. They had to get permission from the Ambassador. Also Joe suits up for the finale and does a little meditation exercise with flashbacks to his training flashbacks from part 1.
I like the camaraderie they have with the Marines, who are all a little quirky and on the same page, tired of getting the run around. They like to joke around while they’re fighting. Curtis says things like “Hey, what’s up, brotha?” to a guy before throwing him across the room. There’s also jokes like one of the Marines hitting on a woman at the bar during a brawl and she breaks a bottle over his head and he just takes it like she threw a drink in his face.
At the end Wild Bill offers to get Joe and Curtis into the Marines. They smile at their ladies and say they have “other plans.” Then they immediately seem to be leaving on a plane without the women. I don’t get it.
A rare example of the movie choosing to go in the less satisfying direction is when the scientist blows up his robot ninjas before they even get turned on. It’s good for the human race, but not for the audience. Otherwise this is an energetic and solid entry in the Cannon canon, fast paced, likable, serious but with a smile.
I wonder which part was The Confrontation, though? It seems to me there are numerous confrontations that take place throughout the movie, but none that I would think to name the movie after specifically. Hmm.
One thing that’s great about the ending is that it shows the title again and plays some more badass George S. Clinton music, a film strutting its way out of the projector. But that’s over a shot of the view from the Army base, showing people sunbathing and bodyboarding and shit.
This so-called Caribbean island was actually filmed in Capetown, South Africa, and I’m curious about that. Filming in South Africa is commonplace now, but this was seven years before the end of apartheid. A cultural boycott from other countries had crippled their film industry, but I guess Cannon didn’t mind supporting systematic racist oppression if it could save them a buck. Keep in mind this is a couple years before Dolph’s RED SCORPION was condemned for breaking the boycott. I found a New York Times article from five years later explaining how tax incentives designed “to offset isolation arising from opposition to apartheid from foreign artists” had indeed made the country a haven for low budget martial arts films:
Among the martial-arts movies made recently in South Africa are “American Kickboxer,” “To the Death,” “Dance of Death,” “Toxic Heart,” “Backlash” and parts two, three and four of “American Ninja.” Cedric Sundstrom, director of two “American Ninja” movies, is thinking of making one more sequel and is currently at work on “The Piscean Factor,” a martial-arts film with an ecological message.
On the positive side, this was done before an overhaul of the system so that “only films that reflect what the Government regards as the South African way of life are eligible for rebates.” It’s not even supposed to take place in South Africa. Also, after being criticized for doing this film Dudikoff refused to film there again, and despite what the article says, at least some of part 4 had to be moved to Lesotho to get him back.
I really wonder about Steve James working there at that time, with many white South African actors and crew, as the totally badass co-star of the movie, whose race is never mentioned. Was it an issue for them? For him? It would be interesting to know what went down. Unfortunately since James’s career was pretty under-the-radar when he passed away in 1993 there’s not exactly a treasure trove of interviews to tell us about this sort of thing. At least not that I’ve come across.
Part 1’s Sam Firstenberg returned to direct. The story is by The Lion himself, Gary Conway, who co-wrote the script with James Booth (an actor who also wrote PRAY FOR DEATH and AVENGING FORCE). This was 1987, and Conway had been out of the acting game since a Love Boat episode in 1981. But now he was transitioning into writing, and had a story credit on OVER THE TOP. He’d go on to write AMERICAN NINJA 3: BLOOD HUNT (1989) and WOMAN’S STORY (2000), which was also his last movie as an actor and only one as a director.
AMERICAN NINJA 2 is a good one. As much as I liked the first one, in my opinion the second one is even more fun. In fact I liked it so much I had no choice but to honor it with a new t-shirt at Vern’s Flea Market. Click on the ad to stock up. Ask about our remote island private ninja army volume discount.
VERN has a new action-horror novel out called WORM ON A HOOK! He has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the film criticism books Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal and Yippee Ki-Yay Moviegoer!: Writings on Bruce Willis, Badass Cinema and Other Important Topics as well as the crime novel Niketown.