Resisting the urge to see Mad God again when venturing down to the tony side of town, the Boy and I opted to see Ninja Badass on its last day. It was a surreal experience on a number of levels. First of all, this is a truly bizarre film—a comedy, sort of an action comedy, sort of a buddy picture where the buddies swap out mid-film, a kind of editing tour de force where the final product is way slicker than the source material somehow.
Second of all, it was Q&A night, but the only other people in attendance besides us were the writer/director/editor/star Ryan Harrison, his mom (who was in the movie) and his pal (who was not by virtue of being in L.A. when shooting was done).
I was more enthused by it than the Boy, who said, “I think you like bad movies more than I do.” Well. Fair enough. But there’s “bad” and there’s “bad” and so many other shades of “bad”, and this movie has a lot of good to it, and only a few bad things that genuinely work against it.
The premise: Rex (Harrison) who lives with his mom (Harrison’s mom, Tara, “Miss Hot Body 1988”) wants to upgrade to the pet store hottie but she’s captured by Big Twitty’s Super Ninjers Squad, and he must rescue her if he’s to have any chance of a lovelife. He and his best pal Kano (Mitch Schlagel) seek out the grand master Ninjer Haskell to learn the necessary skills to succeed. Haskell confronts Big Twitty (Darrell Francis) and ends up an arm short, and through a series of vicissitudes I didn’t quite follow, Kano vanishes and Rex continues his journey with BT’s daughter Jojo (Tatiana Ortiz). Jojo is looking to improve her relationship with her father, which task is complicated by the two of them always trying to kill each other.
I assumed from this that Schlagel had to drop out and Ortiz filled in in spots. He does return later for the shocking twist.
None of this is super important, of course. This is a micro-budget film and passion project, and this really shows in the editing. It succeeds on the whole by moving you from moment to moment: The cardinal sin of the low budget feature has always been boredom—which generally wins out because padding the film to feature length is more important, traditionally—and Harrison does a lot to keep things interesting. If you don’t like a particular bit, another one is coming along in five sec—well, there it is already.
The film’s biggest weakness is that it feels like there isn’t quite enough material to cohesively hang together on the one hand, and more than enough material that other parts don’t feel developed.
The film’s next biggest weakness is the sound design. I don’t think there is any per se, and while I wouldn’t call it a nit-pick, it’s so common as to be practically de rigeur in low budget indies going back to the beginning. Still, it’s a definite minus. While I could hear the dialog quite clearly, it was always accompanied by loud background noise. A lot of it. Like an ambient microphone recording that had been boosted to make the dialog clear. (Our particular showing was way too loud, too, hurting our ears.)
Despite the disjointedness of it, and the extremely broad nature of the comedy, it manages to hang the funny bits and the outlandish bits together in such a way that you still sort of like and root for the characters by the end, especially Rex and Jojo.
And despite taking over a decade to make, there isn’t the sense of ennui that you seem some other extended projects. Harrison commits to the bit, follows through, and comes up with a surprisingly funny 100 minutes.
Can I recommend it? Well, it’s not for everyone™. It’s crude. There is a lot of sexual humor. There is a ridiculous amount of ridiculous violence. The word “ninja” is pronounced “ninjer”. There is a penis more or less right off the bat. (I didn’t ask Harrison if it was his.) He turns his mother into a running “yo mama” joke. (What a good sport! Actually, both seemed like real sweethearts.) There’s dracophilia. Sorta? Does it count if the dragon is one of those Chinese parade puppets? But also sort of a real dragon? I don’t know.
It defies classification, really. If you’re looking for something different and you’re not overly sensitive (both metaphorically and literally, given the visuals and audio) this will turn the trick.