Ninja Busters~ 1984, Paul Kyriazi, USA
Upon first glance, Ninja Busters pretty much just looks like hollow attempt to cash in on the Miami Connection craze, by offering a similar lost film from the same era to the irony-crazed, Alamo Drafthouse flunkies of 2015, but the shocking truth is that Ninja Busters doesn’t actually have a whole hell of a lot in common with the synth-metal tinged, tai kwon do brawl fest that was Miami Connection. Ninja Busters is, in fact, a comedy! And it’s a good one, too!
And don’t get me wrong, I thought Miami Connection was hilarious, but that comedy was entirely accidental. The humor in Ninja Busters is intentional, and its off-putting just how successful this movie is at doing what it actually wants to do. We don’t see that a lot in the deep recesses of Psychotronic film! This is a highly entertaining, surprisingly charming little movie that kept catching me off guard by how hard it DIDN’T suck ass. Ninja Busters actually goes the distance.
THE PLOT~ Chic and Bernie are two bumbling, loveable con men who profess to be masters of the martial arts, but who actually get their ass kicked on the regular, and mostly just want to chase girls. Through happenstance, they enroll in some weird, California dojo (because they want to meet girls), and are slowly accepted by their peers over the course of three years. For a while, it’s all good for our boys, until they manage to piss off a local gangster, who sends his army of deadly ninja to take Chic and Bernie out. This movie is absolutely, 100%, a goofball comedy, but you might be surprised how fast things get fucking awesome in the third act.
So, what’s the deal here?
If we’re being fair, despite the fact that Ninja Busters has thus far failed to make waves quite the way that Miami Connection did when it was rediscovered, this is, in nearly every way possible, a much, much better film. I think it’s natural to compare the two, given the circumstances, but the superiority of Ninja Busters is pretty clear if you make an objective comparison. As fun as it is now, it makes sense that Miami Connection was panned upon its release, that’s a film which draws its considerable power from irony and irony alone, precisely because its actually just a shitty ninja film from the 1980’s. Ninja Busters, however, had even less of an opportunity to shine back in it’s day, and in truth, is was so much more deserving; if this flick had been available on VHS at my corner shop growing up, I would have happily watched it until the cassette fell apart. There’s something special about this movie, deep in its bones it’s just so wholesome and good natured, and I’d say the experience feels more akin to a wacky, upbeat comedy of the 1960’s than the glossy ass pop cinema that had become so much more common in 1984.
Our two leads, Bernie and Chic, have pretty strong chemistry together, as well, though they aren’t the best actors. Actually, much of the acting in Ninja Busters is predictably subpar, but it’s never enough to damage the film’s likability, which is considerable. Sid Campbell (who plays Chic, and who also co-wrote the picture along with William C. Martell) really carries the film, and its too bad we don’t see more of him in other movies. He’s kinda like what you’d have if Ernest P. Worrell had possessed at least a passable knowledge of the martial arts… And yes, that’s exactly as incredible as it sounds. Clearly, this is what my life has been missing all these years.
In a lot of ways, Ninja Busters feels less ambitious than Miami Connection, but that’s okay. The production is adequate, and it’s nice that the movie doesn’t overextend its reach and fall flat on its face like so many other movies from that decade did. Many of the sequences are legitimately funny, the dialogue is actually pretty good, and its remarkably easy to invest in the outcome of the story based on how likable our characters are. Really, likability is this film’s most precious resource, it really comes across that this movie was made with the best intentions; here is a movie that just wants you to laugh and have a good time, and unless you’re Oscar the damn Grouch, that’s probably exactly what you’ll do if you give Ninja Busters an hour and a half of your day.
It’s a shame that Campbell didn’t live to see this film finally be embraced by an audience the way it has since it’s recent rediscovery. Ninja Busters is a remarkable effort that deserved a lot better than it got, and in a world full of 80’s cinema that is celebrated ironically, it’s wonderful to find a film that can be enjoyed because of how good it is. It would be overkill to call Ninja Busters a masterpiece, but I can rest easily saying that I love this film, and I give it a strong recommendation.