American Ninja 4: The Annihilation (1990)

American Ninja 4 DVD CoverExceeding all reasonable expectations, American Ninja 4: The Annihilation not only teams up both American Ninjas (Michael Dudikoff and David Bradley), but is really two American Ninja movies in one!

There’s the first movie taking place during the initial 45 minutes that has David Bradley assuming center stage kicking tail until he gets captured by the bad guys. The second even better movie (because it doesn’t star David Bradley) finishes things off and is the tale of original American Ninja Dudikoff grudgingly going on a mission to rescue Bradley and the other people Bradley got taken hostage with his less than junior varsity American Ninja skills.

You see, despite the film’s promise of both American Ninjas back to back fighting off thousands of evil ninjas, wisecracking through missions, trying to one up each other’s martial arts ability, and high fiving on their way to a celebratory beer at the conclusion of their epic tag team showdown with every villain from all the American Ninja movies, the badly Photoshopped pose both assume on the DVD cover is the closest they actually get to each other!

It probably says something about the relative hierarchy of C and D level martial arts movie stars that the whole strangely conceived and structured affair makes Dudikoff look a bad ass who silently swings into action and efficiently and effortlessly saves the day while poor old Bradley does all kinds of work to set the story up and then is made to be the bad guy’s bitch all the way until the end of the movie where he has to helplessly wait for the Dude to saunter in and rescue him from being burned at the stake like some sweaty, jacked up kung fu witch!

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In any rational world, Bradley would have killed off the whole franchise with his hideously stilted presence in American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt, but we live in a world of second chances and most importantly, a world of pre-sold film properties that undiscriminating overseas viewers can’t get enough of. And to Bradley’s credit, his second turn as that other American Ninja Sean Davidson is much improved, mainly because his dirty mop-like haircut is a bit less mop-like this go around.

Like Dudikoff’s second time as the real American Ninja Joe Armstrong (American Ninja 2: The Confrontation), Bradley also seems more in command and at ease in front of the camera, though this by no means indicates there is any actual acting going on. It’s like he’s accepted what he’s going to do in movies (kick people in the head) and isn’t too nervous about being filmed doing it.

The mission is as simple as any mission in the fourth movie in a film franchise is: a crabby old British guy with a penchant for torture has teamed up with a crazed Arab and somehow they have a suitcase nuke. Bazillions of dollars have to be paid to them or else they will detonate it in New York. Delta Force is sent in and fails, getting captured and executed in various heinous ways with some still being held hostage. Bradley’s character has changed jobs from karate tournament participant to CIA agent and is sent in with a completely incompetent partner to take these guys out.

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Sean’s no dummy and though it is only the beginning of all sorts of things that go on that make him look bad, he asks about sending in his “friend” Joe Armstrong. Joe has gone from being in the Army though to a job in the Peace Corps teaching little kids about the environment!

But once Sean shoots craps on the mission, the CIA boss asks Joe to go in and bail everyone’s ass out. A 20 second montage of Joe soul searching by walking around and drinking some coffee by a campfire results in him flying off to save the day. I guess he’s a Peace Corps volunteer who takes CIA search and rescue missions on an as needed basis! I just hope he got back in time to give those kids their semester tests!

The Dude gets all the best moments in the movie such as when he’s impersonating a priest at a dinner party to steal the plans for the fort he has to invade, climbing up a gigantic mountain with little ninja hand spikes, enlisting a bunch of former prisoners who live in the town near the fort who all look like extras from The Road Warrior to assist on the mission, and of course the greatest scene in all the American Ninja movies where he catches an arrow in his teeth and immediately whips his head around to stab a ninja in the neck right behind him with it! David Bradley probably wondered whose dog he ran over to end up in this Dudikoff fantasy land!

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Bradley gets a final confrontation (after his only onscreen contact with Dudikoff – a fleeting moment where the Dude sets him free) with the evil guy who had been whipping him and abusing the other prisoners, but even that doesn’t redeem him that much since he seems to forget his ninja prowess during the early stages of the battle and ends up throwing crates at the guy and running away!

Even the end of the movie where you are just waiting for some sort of interaction between the two American Ninjas is awkward to the point of being bizarre. The Dude walks out of the fort through tons of dead ninjas, turns back toward Bradley and says that Bradley can find him at the school and then the Dude walks away! And its all accomplished with close ups giving the appearance that these two weren’t even on set together for this anti-climatic moment.

Very weird right up until the end, fans of the Dude will love it, while Bradley’s fan or two will have to hope he gets to finish the series off on more manly note in American Ninja V since the Dude is nowhere to be found in that one!

© 2013 MonsterHunter

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