Tuesday, September 6, 2011

3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain (1998)

For three months in 1997, at the height of WCW's rise from second rate wrestling promotion to the premier wrestling promotion in the world, their world heavyweight champion was MIA. The year before, Hulk Hogan had electrified the wrestling world by turning heel (wrestling term for bad guy) for the first time in 15 years. To cash in on his suddenly increased marketability, Hogan, in his infinite wisdom, disappeared from television for three months to film a 3 Ninjas sequel and a third rate action movie. The Home Alone-esque 1992 original 3 Ninjas had been a hit, but two sequels in 1994 and 1995 had seen diminishing returns. Finally, after a 3 year break that saw an almost completely new cast from the first film six years earlier, 3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain (3N:HNAMM) was released to enormous yawns.

Sadly, "guy in denim jacket" was held down by WCW politics
and never received a championship title match.

The film opens with an extended training sequence that features an all new, all-different Rocky, Colt, and Tum-Tum, the 3 Ninjas of the title, as they proceed through their grandfather's Rube Goldberg-y warehouse that appears to exist just for ninja training. This scene exists purely as a relaxing end to the summer for the boys, who return to their normal, non-ninja lives where they watch a Power Rangers type show called "Dave Dragon" that features a giant spray-tanned man wearing some bad He-Man cosplay. Hogan was 44 years old when the movie was filmed, and spends the entire movie not wearing a shirt. Dave Dragon confides with his fans that his show has been canceled but he will be appearing at Mega Mountain, a local amusement park. Rocky thinks this might be his last year of being a ninja in a subplot that will never be addressed, when a family moves in next door. The family has a daughter in the same age demo as the ninjas, and she wins them over somehow by piloting a helicopter through a window. Somehow this leads to the four of them going to Mega Mountain.

Loni Anderson shows that people can live in the uncanny valley.

Meanwhile, Medusa (70s sex symbol Loni Anderson) and her all-star team of terrorists including a Rastafarian hacker, evil Jim Varney, and a big fat idiot, plan their cunning attack on Mega Mountain in a bizarre coincidence that explains the movie's incredibly dumb title. Except for the "high noon" part, which would make you think it was a western. Basically their plan is to take over operation of the park and do such a bad job that the park's owner will pay an outrageous ransom for some reason. I guess he is really attached to the people who ride on his amusement park rides. The next day, the villains make an incredibly elaborate entrance via jet ski/scuba combo to break through the impregnable modern day amusement park. They quickly take over the security center that somehow allows remote control of all rides, and then proceed to replace the local carnies highly trained ride operators to ensure no rides are accidentally safe.

Sadly we never get a rasta/ninja fight.

Meanwhile the ninjas and their klutzy genius new friend arrive at the park and meet up with some non-ninjas Rocky's age, including his crush Jennifer and an incredibly irritating little blonde boy rival with a middle part whose name may as well be "Draco." The ninjas aimlessly wander around the park for a while, but eventually realize that the ride operators have turned EVIL and engage them in an extended karate fight. In the closest thing this film has to narrative folding, the karate fight accidentally stumbles into a wild west stage show, electrifying an audience that apparently hates wild west shows and loves karate. Why did they even go to this show and not the Dave Dragon show at the other side of the park? With some help from the western actor's lasso, the ninjas tie up the goons and go to seek the aid of Dave Dragon. Meanwhile Medusa puts evil Jim Varney on the case of catching several children, but he delegates that to the big fat idiot and his less fat but equally dense friends.

Ernest gets a sword.

The plot thickens as we get more karate fights, not one but two girlfriend/sidekick kidnappings, incredibly ridiculous hacking sequences that would make Angelina Jolie's character in Hackers roll her eyes, and the world's worst S.W.A.T. team. Oh, and the Draco Malfoy character pees his pants in fear. Basically 3N:HNAMM is exactly at the level of sequel decay you would expect from a franchise that started off as a below average "kids beat up adults" movie. Oh and the music is mind-numbingly awful. Somehow the "Dave Dragon" theme music is worse than the mid-90's Power Rangers music it's referencing.

Amanda's Newton hacks into a theme park's system to save everyone from raptors.

I don't want to pick on individual actors too much, and none are particularly strong (Jim Varney is probably the best but he also has the most experience hamming it up in awful movies), but the replacement of middle child Colt really sticks out in making this movie worse than its predecessors. Max Elliott Slade played the sarcastic middle ninja in the first three movies and had a smarmy, sarcastic charm in addition to his ability to kick people and shout. He also had a real acting career, appearing as Tom Hanks' son in Apollo 13 and Steve Martin's son in Parenthood. His replacement, Michael O'Laskey II, brings little attitude but a big lisp to the proceedings, taking a bad script and making it worse with awkward delivery.

Dave Dragon suffers for the sins of amusement park attendees.

It's wrestler month, so I also need to single out heavyweight champion Hulk Hogan. Because this is a children's movie and what's more a children's movie about three specific ninja children, Hulk Hogan spends the majority of the film looking like an ineffective idiot. He is shot by a dart, revived by the children, captured by the bad guys about three times, knocked out in a fight, and generally made to look like a putz. Meanwhile, six year old Tum-Tum successfully fights like ten guys through a clever combination of running away and kicking. In my favorite heavy-handedly symbolic scene in the movie, Dragon is brought out into the crowd by the bad guys and knocked to the ground, causing a stupid young child to question Dragon's heroism. Dragon gets so inspired he endangers the child and the surrounding crowd's lives by picking a fight with the terrorists and drawing machine gun fire just a few feet from the child who has only just learned to believe again. Hogan remained a major name in wrestling for several years, but movies like this pretty well torpedoed his acting career.

Arbitrary Rating:

2.15 AY-YAAAAHs out of 5

Memorable Quotes:

Rocky: It's no good! We need a three prong outlet!

Incredibly nerdy man in starched shirt and mustache: Did somebody call for an engineer?

Lothar Zogg (Jim Varney): I'll take care of the kids myself. They're dog-meat.

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