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Beverly Hills Ninja

Directed by Dennis Dugan. Starring Chris Farley, Nicollette Sheridan, Nathaniel Parker, Soon-Tek Oh, Chris Rock, Robin Shou. (1997, PG-13, 90 min.)

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Jan. 24, 1997

Nearly as much fun as a case of scabies, Beverly Hills Ninja transports the viewer into a mystical realm where pratfall is king and mediocrity is its own reward. Granted, one doesn’t attend Chris Farley vehicles to bask in their sublime theatre-of-the-absurd ambiance, but Dugan’s painful, childlike finesse with a Panaflex never approaches even the subtle, self-inflicted hilarity of sea-salted razor wire ground inexorably into raw, weeping sores. Essentially, the former Saturday Night Live player is recreating any one of a number of his previous parts from SNL or Tommy Boy: the hulking man-child, oblivious to the chaos that surrounds and engulfs him, slapstick gone over the top. Here, however, he is Haru, a mindlessly inept wannabe Ninja warrior who makes his way from the hills surrounding his ancient dojo to Beverly Hills in hopes of rescuing a mysterious blonde (Sheridan) who may or may not be in peril from her “boyfriend,” Martin Tanley (Parker). Tanley, as it turns out, is scheming to get his hands on one-half of a set of stolen Treasury plates the yakuza has. The Yakuza, naturally, would like the other half that Tanley has, and Haru is stuck in the middle, too overwhelmed to know quite what to do, but knowing he must do something, if only to prove to his sensei that he is less of a buffoon than his martial arts comrades would think. Shadowing Haru’s every move is his brother Gobei (Shou), a skilled ninja sent to keep watch over the bumbling Haru and all-around general foil. Dugan keeps Farley moving around, having him run into immobile objects every time the film threatens to bog down in rationality, but it’s no use. There are only so many ways even a Mack Sennett clown could fall over, and Farley exhausts them all within the space of a half hour, leaving us with a good 60 minutes to wonder what comes next. When nothing does, we’re left to ponder the rampant unfunniness of it all, counting Jujubes in the dark and waiting for Adam Sandler to save the day.

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