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'3 Ninjas: High Noon' a Lively Action Adventure

Movie Review

April 10, 1998|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain" is just as smart and lively as its three predecessors. Martial arts for kids, with their underlying spiritual principles and emphasis on self-defense, are especially welcome at a time when stories of youngsters with guns flood the media.

Exceptionally well-made family entertainment, this "3 Ninjas" is constantly inventive, action-filled and funny, with a flourish of good special effects. Director Sean Patrick McNamara and his co-writer Jeff Phillips and their first-rate cast and resourceful crew deliver the goods.

Ironically, "3 Ninjas" No. 4 opens on a poignant note. The three likable Douglas brothers, Rocky (Mathew Botuchis), Colt (Michael J. O'Laskey II) and Tum Tum (J.P. Roeske II) are winding up their usual summer vacation with their Grandpa Mori (the wonderful Victor Wong), who has trained them to be black-belt karate fighters at his wilderness retreat. Grandpa sadly overhears his two oldest grandsons expressing their growing boredom with karate and their reluctance to return the following summer. Very shortly, of course, the boys are going to be profoundly grateful for all their grandfather has taught them.

For a birthday treat Tum Tum has picked a day at a theme park, Mega Mountain (in reality Denver's Elitch Gardens), because his martial-arts TV hero Dave Dragon (Hulk Hogan, top-billed but a supporting player) is making a personal appearance. Dragon has just announced his show has been canceled, suggesting wistfully that people don't seem to believe in heroes anymore.

So off to Mega Mountain go the brothers and friends, plus their new neighbor Amanda (Chelsey Earlywine). She's an electronics and computer whiz who's the daughter of a movie special-effects expert who's taught her a few tricks of his trade.

Wouldn't you know that this is the very day that the evil Medusa (Loni Anderson) and her henchmen descend upon Mega Mountain and hold its visitors for $10 million in ransom from the park's owner? Naturally, the baddies are ultimately no match for the three ninjas, plus the smart and clever Amanda and the heroic Dave, but the getting there is ingenious, diverting and amusing.

Encased in dominatrix black leather and spike heels, and sporting a blond hooker wig and makeup, Anderson has fun with the nasty Medusa. Just as she's about to blow up--or so she thinks--the cool Amanda, played with spunk and poise by Earlywine, she tells the girl, "Rest in pieces!"

Cast as Medusa's key henchman is Jim Varney, in a long-overdue departure from his Ernest character, whose lean, weaselly presence fondly recalls old-time serials villains. Don't be surprised if the "3 Ninjas" return for a fifth outing--and let's hope that if there is one, there will be more screen time for the droll Wong.

* MPAA rating: PG, for nonstop martial arts action, some gunplay and mild language. Times guidelines: The ninja action is standard for the genre, and there is no gratuitous violence.

'3 Ninjas: High Noon

at Mega Mountain'

Hulk Hogan: Dave Dragon

Loni Anderson: Medusa

Jim Varney: Birdie

Victor Wong: Grandpa Mori

Mathew Botuchis: Rocky

Michael J. O'Laskey II: Colt

J.P. Roeske II: Tum Tum

Chelsey Earlywine: Amanda

A TriStar Pictures presentation of a Sheen Production in association with Leeds/Ben-Ami Production. Director Sean Patrick McNamara. Producers James Kang, Yoram Ben-Ami. Executive producers Simon Sheen, Arthur Leeds. Screenplay by McNamara and Jeff Phillips. Cinematographer Blake T. Evans. Editor Annamaria Szanto. Costumes Miye Matsumoto. Music John Coda. Production designer Chuck Connor. Art director Chase Harlan. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.

* In general release throughout Southern California.

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