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American Ninja 4: The Annihilation

tn_an4Long before the FAST AND FURIOUS series did it (better), the AMERICAN NINJA series pulled the power move of doing a part 3 with a new lead, only to combine the casts in a later sequel. AMERICAN NINJA 4: THE ANNIHILATION starts with part 3’s Sean Davidson (David Bradley) and later brings back part 1-2’s Joe Armstrong (Michael Dudikoff). The bad news is this is the first one not to include the character of Curtis Jackson (Steve James), so it almost feels like less of a real sequel than part 3.

The dilemma: American servicemen abducted overseas again. Ninja related again. This time it’s worse, because the crazy British Colonel Mulgrew (James Booth, writer of part 2 and AVENGING FORCE and this one) and terrorist Sheik Maksood (Ron Smezarack) plan to burn the four captured Delta Force commandos at the stake and nuke New York City with a suitcase bomb if they aren’t paid $50 million. (It seems like either threat would be enough though, right?) I know that sounds like a boring useless couple of loser villains with nothing to contribute, so fortunately they are also training an army of super ninjas, one of whom wears a silver helmet and mirror eye patch. So they check out.

The brass call in Sean and his best friend Carl (Dwayne Alexandre I think?) while Carl is getting married. Like, he has to leave the actual altar while they’re saying the vows. Didn’t something like this happen in NAVY SEALS? And shouldn’t it really preoccupy him for the whole rest of the movie? It’s never mentioned again.

Sean wants to know why they don’t send Joe for this job. It’s because Joe quit. He’s in the Peace Corps now. Sean also thinks Carl isn’t ready to be in the field. Obviously this is gonna lead to something all dramatical and shit, like he gets killed, never to return to his fiancee/wife, and Sean blames the system and decides to quit. Or he proves himself through uncommon valor and Sean has to admit he’s ready, or he sacrifices himself bravely so he has proven himself but also is never to return to his fiancee/wife… something like that? Surely they have something big like this planned, otherwise they wouldn’t bring it up.

Nope. Never becomes relevant that anyone questioned his readiness.

Their local asset is a child taxi driver named Pango (Jody Abrahams). He’s just like Part 2’s Toto and even has similar taste in hats. He takes them to a bar where they get threatened and prove themselves by beating everybody up and then leaning casually on the bar again like it’s no big deal.

They end up chased by the authorities and hide among dead bodies with the help of a Peace Corps doctor named Sarah (Robin Stille, SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE, SORORITY BABES IN THE SLIMEBALL BOWL-O-RAMA). Eventually Sean, Carl and Sarah all get captured and strung up in a dark storage room.

still_an4-4(Earlier there was a part where Pango was being threatened and the guy touched him in a sexually harassing sort of way. In this scene a similar thing happens to Sarah. These fuckin bad guys need to learn about personal bubbles.)

Remember in part 2 some guys went in and got captured by ninjas, so Joe went in and the ninjas tried to capture him, and he beat them all up on the beach? I think that’s what they were going for here, sending in Sean, but instead of doing the beating them up part he also gets captured. So the only thing they can do to make up for this fiasco is go back to the original American Ninja and beg him to come in and be the American Ninja again.

A couple things part 3 never mentioned about Sean:

1) He’s in Delta Force

2) He’s even in the military at all

3) He’s good friends with Joe. Maybe in between 3 and 4 Curtis introduced the two?

Joe is in RAMBO III style peaceful self imposed exile, teaching children about the environment:


But they convince him to go save Sean’s dumb ass. Joe goes and meets with Pango, and instead of going to talk to the bar toughs he goes to some kind of pre-post-apocalyptic tribe who live in an abandoned mine or something with lots of studded leather and scavenged cars and stuff. Just like Sean at the bar or himself with Curtis in part 1 he has a fight (one against three) and proves himself, so the leader laughs and decides they’re friends now.

I mean, these guys are pretty impressive though. Much better backup than his previous army grunts or beach bums.



So Joe provides the traditional American Ninja rescue, but with these marauders coming in for the late assist instead of the U.S. Army. It’s pretty cool to see a bunch of punks rolling up Lord Humungus style on some ninjas. That’s two great tastes that taste great together.


And it’s a nice twist on the series formula because usually it’s the U.S. invading a foreign country. This time it’s a rebellion. Joe sneaks into a fancy party at the mansion where the hostages are hidden by disguising himself as a priest. When one of the villains catches him sneaking into the building Joe barely touches his neck and knocks him unconscious. When the guy wakes up he’s mad at the priest who he thinks did this to him. (Not real quick, this one.)

mp_an4Dudikoff and Bradley don’t actually have much screen time together, they’re pretty much in separate movies most of the time, but they do get to fight each other. Somebody must’ve felt the fans would want to see that, but it doesn’t technically settle which American Ninja would win in a fight (a hot topic of debate all around the world, no doubt) because “Sean” turns out to be fighting not due to mind control but due to being another dude wearing a realistic Sean mask. Still, it’s funny that Dudikoff gets to win, because he’s not a veteran martial artist like Bradley, and his moves are generally slower and stiffer than in the earlier installments. I’ve read that this caused some tension between them on set, too, even though they had been friends before either of them were American Ninjas.

But Dudikoff is still pretty cool in this. I really like that he goes back to Part 1’s nearly mute characterization. At the end, when Sarah asks, “Why did that ninja untie you?” Sean says, “Oh, that’s a friend of mine. He’s not much for words, but he comes through in the end.”

Like Antoine and Christine in BED AND BOARD, the two American Ninjas fight and then ultimately get back together.

In my opinion this one feels a little more slapdash than parts 1-3, but I like the whole “sequel guy fails, original guy saves his ass” structure, and the Road Warrior guys, of course. More importantly it’s got some pretty good ninja shit in it. There’s a part where Joe looks out a car window and sees a ninja standing on a rock in the distance. Then all the sudden the ninja has disappeared and then he drops onto the hood of the car. It’s like he’s the monster in JEEPERS CREEPERS or something.

Sean uses a bow, a staff, a choke wire that comes out of his watch, and nunchakas. Joe uses ninja mountain climbing claws and catches an arrow in his mouth. Before the final duel with the mirrored-eyepatch-ninja he changes into a yellow MORTAL KOMBAT type outfit, and then changes into jeans and t-shirt before leaving. I suppose they must have a locker room in there.

In my opinion the main appeal of Cannon ninja movies is the intrusion of dudes in full ninja gear into the modern world, and the extravagant operations of ninja armies. So I can’t front on the rotating helicopter shots of this red, yellow and blue ninja squad training on the edge of a cliff. That goes a long way.


In fact, I just have to give straight up kudos to this ninja army. This is a very handsome ninja army. They have that cliff, they have the flags, they have the most different colors of any ninja army I’ve seen, and they know how to position themselves symmetrically to look intimidating. If you have any kind of interest in evil ninja armies whatsoever you can’t help but admire their work.


And I’m kinda into this red-masked henchman on the right here. Look at this dude!


I suspect he was late for work and he hadn’t had a chance to do laundry and his ninja suit smelled like ass so he threw together the closest thing he could come up with from what he had in his closet. It works for him, though, it’s kinda creepy.

still_an4-2Kely McClung plays the lead ninja as well as one of the Delta Force guys in the opening. He’s a martial artist who was discovered by fight choreographer Mike Stone (see my part 2 review for details on Stone’s interesting background) after winning the International Full Contact Stickfighting Championships. He later became a writer-director and tried to get Dudikoff to star in his horror movie ALTERED, as he explains in a good interview on an AMERICAN NINJA blog.

Part 3’s South African director Cedric Sundstrom returned, having done the Oliver Reed movie THE REVENGER in between.

In the tradition of blood hunts and confrontations, I’m not sure where the annihilation is in this movie. Obviously they come up with the titles and sell the movies, then come up with the ninja logos, then eventually coming around to giving any thought to what maybe the movie could be about when they write it eventually. But it’s weird that that they never, ever match the subtitle to the movie. I respect consistency, though.

This is the AMERICAN NINJA that takes us into the ’90s, so they go all out on the fonts for the title. They have the stencils to represent ’80s action but then they got some different unexpected design elements like some kind of crayon scribbles behind the subtitle. And the interesting thing is, remember when the Nicolas Winding Refn movie DRIVE came out, it had kind of a retro thing and people were really into the pink title font? And I remember it reminded me and others of PURPLE RAIN. But it turns out actually it was based on AMERICAN NINJA 4: THE ANNIHILATION. Now we know the truth.


THE ANNIHILATION’s biggest weakness is that it doesn’t have very strong parallels to BED & BOARD. I mean, at the beginning of that Antoine is in a totally different work situation, and same with Sean here. But there’s nothing about fatherhood, or affairs or breakups or even chopping through a wall.

BED & BOARD does have the relationship with Kyoko, an illustration of white people’s fascination with aspects of Japan’s culture, another example of which is the AMERICAN NINJA series itself. It’s too bad AMERICAN NINJA 4 doesn’t have  a model city in it. That would’ve been pretty easy to fit in.

I believe this movie was considered a flop, and I think to this day it’s not as widely respected as the other fine AMERICAN NINJA installments, but I feel I have presented enough evidence here to prove that it is worth your time.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 31st, 2016 at 11:36 am and is filed under Action, Martial Arts, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

27 Responses to “American Ninja 4: The Annihilation”

  1. Crushinator Jones

    May 31st, 2016 at 12:48 pm

    “It’s pretty cool to see a bunch of punks rolling up Lord Humungus style on some ninjas. That’s two great tastes that taste great together.”

    Well said!

  2. Watched and loved AMERICAN NINJA 1+2 in the late 00s (although I preferred the “restraint” of Part I), but never went any further until now. Couldn’t get into Trois, but really enjoyed this one. Cheerfully earnest and with a lot of fun ninja action. In many ways Golan and Globus vision of Dudikoff as a James Dean for the conservative 80s made sense; just as handsome, with sensual rebelliousness replaced with upstanding morality and unquestioning politeness. Though I would say Cannon maybe didn’t do the best job of keeping up with the times; other than the portrait of Bush I in one scene, you’d be hard pressed to know this hadn’t been filmed straight after Part I back in 1985.

  3. CrustaceanLove

    May 31st, 2016 at 4:46 pm

    One thing I appreciate about this era of ninja movies is that they aren’t afraid to embrace the silliness and give us brightly coloured ninjas wielding every kind of bladed weapon, chain weapon, thrown weapon, smoke bomb, staff, bow and arrow etc. that they can get their hands on. They aren’t wasteful… they use every part of the ninja. I was really looking forward to seeing The Hand in DAREDEVIL, but it turns out they’re just a bunch of guys with swords.

    I’ve really been enjoying this series Vern. This kind of bizarre head-on collision between high and low culture is why I come to this site.

  4. I believe this was made after Cannon went bancrupt, so that may explain some of the more bizarre ingredients. But you just have to love a Movie that includes paedophile hizbollah ninjas with nukes among their villains! And the scene where Bradley starts to faint BEFORE he gets hit with the poison dart is pure gold. Remember the start of HOT SHOTS 2 where it says “This is the story of the guys who wnt to get the guys who went to get the guys (or something)”. Now we know where they got that from.

  5. God that red font on the blue background for “The Annihilation’ is fucking hard to read

  6. Illinois Smith

    June 3rd, 2016 at 1:25 am

    I’ve always had a soft spot for this one because I’m pretty sure it’s the first martial-arts action thing I watched all on my own. I was about six and had a fever, woke up in the middle of the night and realized I had sweated through my clothes and bedding. After trying to go back to sleep for 30 mins I put on some dry jammies and went to the living room in search of my usual dose of cartoons. Didn’t look at a watch or the outside world, so it took me a while to realize they don’t start showing those at 3.30 AM. Then I flipped past this movie and saw my first ninja camp. My jaw dropped to the floor. I was in love.

    I absorbed the movie in my weird woozy half-feverish state, like a sponge. And thus my life-long fascination with martial-arts cinema began.

    Fun fact: In Germany this series was called American Fighter, even though the word ninja is all over the dialogue.

  7. Didn’t know what thread to post this random question in, but I figured this community would be the perfect place to ask it. Can any of you guys name me some good examples of action movies where there is a (anti)hero with a dark/violent past who decides to go into hiding and live a peaceful life away from society, only to be forced to resume his violent ways? I’m sure there are many, but my mind is coming up empty for some reason. All I got is Rambo (3 & 4). Reason I’m asking is I’m trying to draw a parallel between the stuff with The Hound on Game of Thrones and this familiar action movie trope.

    Thanks in advance guys.

  8. There’s HOT SHOTS PART DEUX that parodies one of the RAMBOs, I think Wolverine briefly does that in X-MEN ORIGINS WOLVERINE when he becomes a lumberjack. Also, I’m ashamed I don’t remember the original UNFORGIVEN well enough but I do remember that in the Japanese remake, before his old buddy convinces him to go bounty hunting Ken Watanabe lives as a peaceful farmer in the middle of nowhere after a life a violence. Also, I think Viggo Mortensen plays a former mob hitman who lives as a peaceful bartender in A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE. Other than X-MEN I’m not sure any of these fully qualify as action movies though.

  9. Commando?

    THE EQUALIZER (he has a job and stuff, sure, but he’s also in hiding and apart from society)
    COMMANDO (maybe doesn’t count, he does go to that petting zoo)
    NOWHERE TO HIDE (1987 Amy Madigan movie where Michael Ironside is an old army buddy who lives out in a shack in the woods)
    THE HUNTED (I think? It’s been a while.)
    SAFE (I think being homeless counts as withdrawing from society, you don’t necessarily need the whole cabin the woods deal)
    SCREAM 3 (Sydney killed like four Ghostfaces, that’s pretty badass in my opinion)
    HARRY BROWN (kind of–he more has isolation thrust on him than chooses it himself)
    MAD MAX 2,3 & 4
    Tony Jaa in real life

    This is actually harder than I thought. I’m away from my movie collection right now or it would be easier.

  11. The Undefeated Gaul

    June 8th, 2016 at 6:43 am

    Thanks for the examples, guys. Yeah, it’s interesting, I’m starting to think this trope was not actually as prevalent in action movies as I thought it was – hence the difficulty in thinking of examples. I did also remember Hot Shots 2, but was hoping to find proper action titles and not parodies. Maybe something obscure starring Van Damme or somebody like that. Unforgiven and Commando are good ones though, I’ll probably use those.

  12. The Undefeated Gaul

    June 8th, 2016 at 6:48 am

    Only saw your suggestions after I posted my last reply, Mr. M. Thanks for those!

    I was also thinking The Big Boss. I seem to remember Bruce Lee leaving the city to get away from being involved in fights all the time.

  13. DEATH HUNT? I don’t remember if Bronson’s character was supposed to have retired from a life of professional badassery or if he was always just an antisocial cabin-dweller who happened to be badass because they hired Charles Bronson to play him.

  14. Bronsons Character in MR MAJESTYK was suppsoedly a war veteran now only concerned picking melons. But then had to pick up his violent ways again. Does that count?

  15. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (I of all people really shouldn’t have to be the one to point this one out. Y’all are slippin’)
    HE NEVER DIED (Which you fuckers need to see, like, now)

  16. Shoot: I was considering that one, but decided that running a farm with dozens of employees is probably a little too involved with society to count.


  18. If I’m not mistaken, the main character in CIRCLE OF PAIN also aspires to a peaceful life away from MMA cages before he has to fight again.

    And Steve Austin’s character in HUNT TO KILL quits the Border Patrol and lives in a cabin in the mountains with his daughter before he has to go kill a bunch of bank robbers in the woods.


  19. Seems like half of all Van Damme and Seagal movies fall into the “former badass has retired from the life of violence and now lives in peaceful tranquility until events force him to get violent again” category. For example”

    Under Seige 2
    On Deadly Ground
    Glimmer Man (He’s still in the police, but he’s become a Buddhist and renounced violence)
    The Patriot
    Out For A Kill
    Belly of the Beast
    Out of Reach (this is almost a perfect match, since he even lives out in the wilderness)
    Shadow Man
    Driven To Kill / Ruslan
    A Good Man

    Van Damme:
    Nowhere To Run
    Hard Target
    Double Team
    Wake of Death
    and I think Six Bullets too, though I can’t really remember the details

    Also, Luke in THE FORCE AWAKENS. Ok, he hasn’t had to resume his violent ways yet, but hopefully in the next one.

  20. Chance definitely had not retired from his violent ways at the beginning of HARD TARGET. He volunteers to kick four asses in his first scalene, and he was only on land at all because he’d recently beaten up his former captain. This was a guy looking for adventure, not peace.

  21. CrustaceanLove

    June 8th, 2016 at 4:43 pm


  22. Fuckin’ BLASTFIGHTER!

  23. That theme song! That strangely incestuous father/daughter interaction in Blastfighters cabin in the woods. Fuck, now I can’t stop singing Evening Star.

  24. CrustaceanLove

    June 9th, 2016 at 5:36 pm

    I love this place.

  25. I sought out an interview with David Bradley for years. I interviewed almost everyone else of import from the AN franchise, and after I’d written an epic retrospective (which can be found online at Kung Fu Tai Chi’s website), I eventually got a response from David Bradley. This is what he wrote:

    I was actually friends with Michael before he ever did a ninja movie …. He was in a comedy sitcom series ” A Star in the Family” and was working out at Bruce Jenner’ s gym where I worked out …. He introduced himself to me while I was working out on the heavy bag they had there …. He was interested in the martial arts ….We would hang out off and on for a couple years as we were neighbors in Marina del Rey and got along well ….. when I got the American Ninja role I hadn’t been in touch with him for a couple of years …. The sequel with us together was difficult as Michael was upset that I had been advertised as a real martial artist come to beef up the series…… I wanted it to be a buddy movie but he was very clear with the producers that he would only come in at the end of the story and save the day …. and that it had to be established that his character was the true hero and better fighter…. so I was a little upset that I was forced to be less than what I had signed up for … and that the movie was going to be less than what it could have been. David Bradley

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