Thursday, February 27, 2014

This Bud's for You: EXTRA LARGE: NINJA'S SHADOW (1993)

This has been a surprisingly uneven, roller-coaster ride of a trip through twelve EXTRA LARGE movies, but we have finally arrived at the final entry in the final series. There were laughs, there were tears (seriously I'm traumatized by the sight of a Native American now), and there were amazing displays of very expensive dentistry. Now we've reached the episode that I've been waiting all of my life for. Bud Spencer vs. Ninjas. Seriously, I ask you, how could you possibly fuck that up? Well, I'll tell you.

Jack spends a lot of time at Harry's Place (I feel sad for the owners of The Blue Monkey) blowin' the sax, so you know what that means. Peeps are gonna get jacked! First a guy in a three piece suit in a mechanic's shop in the dead of night (yeah, I don't know either) is attacked and killed. The news hits the front page of the paper complete with a police composite sketch of the assailant: a ninja! Of course, this can only mean one thing. It is the perfect time for Jack and Sam to take a fishing trip! Their vacation takes place on a small boat, in a small, overgrown river with a portable radio. These guys know how to live! Meanwhile, a second brutal killing takes place, this time the sleazy owner of a strip club (is that redundant?). Jack and Sam hear the news on the radio to a rousing chorus of "meh", which is understandable as that must be a daily occurrence in Miami. Besides they are gone fishin' (sic), and like all good Americans, they are not going to let minor trivialities like "unsolved ninja murders" get in the way of their good time.

To ensure we couldn't heckle their newspaper mock-up
in this episode, they made sure not to do a close up. Bastards.

Dumas gets an urgent call from Senator Robbins (G√ľnther Maria Halmer) who feels his life is in danger and it's imperative that Dumas drop his dinner date with Maria and run over to his mansion immediately! So great is the emergency that Dumas finds the senator casually sipping a cocktail and relaxing in his living room. Of course this is the perfect time for a ninja attack! During the poorly orchestrated attack (the ninja simply walks into the living room), Dumas grabs the senator's gun and empties it without seeming to scratch the shadow warrior. In the fracas Dumas sprains his shoulder and tells the media that it was an official case from the Dumas Detective Agency. After this makes the news, that tears it! Fishing trip over! It is now imperative that Jack and Sam get involved.

As it turns out, the ninja is a Vietnamese guy (!) who is seriously pissed off about decades old war crimes in a small Vietnamese village led by then Colonel Robbins. Robbins not only turned the village into a hub of prostitution, drugs and murder, but he also raped and kidnapped the girl who became his wife Syu (Penthouse Pet of January 1981, Suzee Pai, best remembered for playing "a whole girl" in 1986s BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA). Syu tracks down Jack (it's not hard, she follows him home from the club) and spills the adzuki beans on the ninja plot while walking braless in a white blouse on a windy day. This is a good thing because it distracts from the fact that Pai really isn't much of an actress and the long, dreary emotional dialogue scenes with her are almost enough to make me want to commit seppuku with a rusty butterkinfe.

Actually, I take that back, the most unbearable stretch of murine-enhanced dialogue comes from Pat Morita, who enters the drag-on episode at the 70 minute mark as the unnamed Japanese ninja father of the revenging Vietnamese ninja. Yes, Pat Morita is supposed to be a ninja. Confused? Morita will clear things up. Except it will take five solid minutes of long winded, drawn-out, tear-stained talking-head cinema for this to happen of course and by the end of it, you absolutely will not care. That Morita's only scenes contain not even so much as a ninja outfit is just soy sauce on the wound. In addition to this plot to kill all of the ex-soldiers who committed these crimes under Robbins' command (who, 25 years later, all conveniently live in Florida), Jack and Dumas begin to suspect that Robbins might be manipulating them into cleaning up his mess. Ain't that just like a senator?

As if the lethargic pace and the mostly lackluster ninja action weren't bad enough, Jack's grudging acceptance of Dumas has oddly become outright animosity in this entry. If you have a garage band playing a sloppy cover of a classic tune, many may not notice an off note, but everyone will notice if that off note is played when accompanied by utter silence. If there had been lots of action and the jokes were flying fast and furious as in "Diamonds" I don't think I would have noticed Jack's curmudgeonly behavior taking on a rather acrimonious hue. How exactly did this come to be? There is only one answer. You hire Marco Barboni (son of the great Enzo Barboni) to write the script.

Barboni wrote several things for Bud Spencer and Terence Hill, none of which rank in their best efforts. He also was responsible for the ploddingly dull "Cannonball" and even worse, my most deeply loathed of all of Bud Spencer's work, SPEAKING OF THE DEVIL (1991, aka A CHILD IN PARADISE). Fortunately this is nowhere near as wrist-slittingly saccharine as that film, and to be fair, none of his other work is either. I actually did enjoy Hill's solo outing RENEGADE (1987), but I kind of attribute that to the fact that his father directed it and three other people share credit with the screenplay.

"Ninja's Shadow" is the kind of episode where you start grasping at straws for moments of entertainment. My favorite bit is in the beginning when Jack is about to get on his boat, he shakes a stern finger at Dumas and tells him "don't you touch my baked beans!" This being a reference to Spencer's many Western roles in which his characters would never be too far from a skillet of saucy legumes. Also, I liked that the ninja calculated that the best way to terrorize and subsequently kill the strip club owner is to go down into the basement kitchen (yes, the strip-club has a large professional kitchen, presumably for weddings or baby showers) and roughly chop vegetables with his sword until the guy arrives. Damn, I thought being a ninja would be hard! Stand in a basement kitchen for hours chopping vegetables? I've done that (thank you Chef Hix), so therefore I could be a ninja! Awesome. There are a couple of decently choreographed fight scenes involving the ninja and actor/stuntman Jeff Moldovan, who has worked for everyone from the Italians to Cannon to Full Moon, but they are nothing to get excited about. My dreams of seeing Bud Spencer attacked by a horde of ninjas were shattered. I'm not sure if I'll ever be the same... today.

Seems a shame to be ending our coverage of both series' on such a down note. We've had a lot of fun doing it and while on paper the lows seemed to outnumber the highs, we have seen a lot worse. Except "Indians". Maybe one day we will tackle Spencer's first series "Il Professore" (aka "Big Man"), but first Will will need to go through several intense therapy sessions before Bud Spencer will be able to smack him around again. Until then I may have to revisit the FLATFOOT (1973-1980) series, and maybe BUDDY GOES WEST (1981), CAT AND DOG (1983), or maybe I'll finally get around to watching his straight-faced crime flick BLACK TORINO (1972)!

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