"3 Ninjas Kick Back" is just as lively and engaging as the 1992 original. Writer Mark Saltzman and director Charles T. Kanganis, neither of which were involved in the earlier film, do a fine job of keeping things happening and moving in an easy yet highly kinetic fashion. Although aimed at children, this smart-looking TriStar release is actually more inventive and better-paced than many a comedy for adults.
The sly and ingratiating Victor Wong is back as the Japanese American martial arts whiz who coaches his three grandsons, Rocky (Sean Fox), Colt (Max Elliott Slade, the only actor to reprise his role as one of the brothers) and Tum Tum (Evan Bonifant) in the art and philosophy of self-defense. When we catch up with them, however, they find their passion for baseball vying with their love for martial arts to the extent that they would rather remain home for the upcoming big game when their grandfather goes off to Japan to present a ceremonial dagger he himself had won 50 years earlier to the winner of a ninja tournament.
The dagger is no ordinary weapon, and the man (Sab Shimono), now a shady business tycoon, defeated by Wong half a century ago, covets it mightily because legend has it that the dagger can open the door to a cave of gold hidden beneath an ancient castle. Lending comic relief are Shimono's wanna-be heavy-metal rocker nephew (Dustin Nguyen) and his equally inept cohorts (Jason Schombing, Angelo Tiffe) struggling to get their hands on the dagger.
Like its predecessor, this film shows a genuine concern for values as well as action with its emphasis on discipline, integrity and fair play, and it even dares to suggest that it's possible for a girl (Caroline Junko King) to be better at martial arts than a boy. And when the boys' busy father (Alan McRae), an FBI agent, wonders why his sons respond to their grandfather more than they do to him, his wife (Margarita Franco) gently points out that her father listens to what they have to say.
* MPAA rating: PG, for martial arts action and some mild language. Times guidelines: Overall, it is exceptionally thoughtful children's fare ; appropriate for all ages.
'3 Ninjas Kick Back'
Victor Wong: Grandpa
Max Elliott Slade: Colt
Sean Fox: Rocky
Evan Bonifant: Tum Tum
A TriStar pictures presentation of a Sheen production in association with Ben-Ami/Leeds Productions. Director Charles T. Kanganis. Producers James Kang, Martha Chang, Yoram Ben-Ami. Executive producers Simon Sheen, Ben-Ami. Screenplay by Mark Saltzman; based on a screenplay by Sheen. Cinematographer Christopher Faloona. Editor David Rennie. Costumes Takeshi Yamazaki, Miye Matsumoto. Music Richard Marvin. Production designers Hiroyuki Takatsu, Gregory Martin. Art director Scott Meehan. Set dresser Karin McGaughey. Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes.
* In general release throughout Southern California.