The Japanese martial art of ninjutsu dates back around the turn of the seventh century A.D., encompassing the tactics of self-defense, espionage, and guerilla warfare. This strategic practice has, thanks to its lasting influence over international culture, maintained a stronghold of cultural significance in Western cinema. The character of the ninja is a timelessly fascinating, regally entrancing phenomenon. Beyond Medieval knights, high seas pirates, and intergalactic travelers are ninjas the most engrossing, beloved, and mysterious warriors in fact or fiction. But as rich and dense as the history of the ninja might be, it wasn't until the date of August 7, 1992, exactly twenty years ago today, that the identity of the Japanese spy and soldier really hit its potential in terms of relevance in the canon of American film. For on this date, the great Jon Turtletaub bequeathed unto the world his third directorial feature: 3 Ninjas.
A Brief History
If you grew up in the '90s, then the gravity of this film's impact need not be clarified to you. I was almost five when 3 Ninjas came out; my older sister was about ten. I remember our first viewing of the adventures of the Douglas brothers. She explained to me, as the boys rustled through their dresser drawers to hastily throw on their uniforms before they'd defend against invading criminals, that the change of clothes was necessary — my sister shot down my suggestion that the boys were hoping to shield their identities, but instead, simply needed to don their garb to effectively "become" the three ninjas.
And from then on, I understood. This wasn't simply a story about a trio of goofy siblings defying their disapproving dad for the sake of it. This was a tale of deciding what you wanted to be, and setting that decision into action. It was a story about challenging the forces set against you to become exactly what you always knew you were supposed to become. And while I never personally intended to be a ninja (although it was always enjoyable to play a few rounds of 3 Ninjas with my two best friends... I was always Tum Tum), the message still rang true. This is a movie with a timeless message.
But as positive an effect this film has had on me, and its many other fans, it seems to have had a particularly bizarre effect on its cast. Less than four years after 3 Ninjas hit theaters, each of the movie's young stars Michael Treanor (Rocky), Max Elliot Slade (Colt), and Chad Power (Tum Tum) were out of the business for good. The last acting credit attributed to Treanor was the film's 1995 threequel, 3 Ninjas Knuckle Up. For Slade, it was a '96 direct-to-video flick called The Sweeper (his last big screen appearance was in Apollo 13). And as for Power: he followed Knuckle Up with stints on ER and Step By Step in '95. None have been seen on screen since. Rumors and reports about the boys are numerous: Treanor works in finance in Washington D.C. and was considered for a part in a 2011 regeneration of his Rocky character; Slade plays guitar for a band called Haden. But in the true spirit of their ninja identities, these warriors have maintained a thick sheath of mystery over their whereabouts.
And while we have nothing but respect for their privacy and career choices, we'd still wish to extend this open letter to the stars of the 1992 classic 3 Ninjas in hopes of, perhaps, reuniting the family Douglas.
An Open Letter to the 3 NinjasDear Rocky, Colt, and Tum Tum,
We'd like to kick things off by extending our best wishes for whatever travels you are presently undertaking. It was twenty years ago today when you first came into our lives, and only three short years later when you left them for good. Vanishing, just as Grandpa Mori Shintaro might have taught you to. Sure, your roles were usurped in '98 for High Noon at Mega Mountain, but nobody really ever accepted Mathew Botuchis, Michael O'Laskey II, or James Paul Roeske II as your respective characters. Besides, that film was mostly just a showcase for Hulk Hogan anyhow. Hardly true Ninja fashion. Although I do love a good Jim Varney turn.
The point is, we miss you guys. Your '92 movie, silly as it was, was a great deal of fun. It's one of those rare kid's pictures that welcomes every young lad or lass to relate comfortably. For the romantics, there's Rocky, who loves Em-uh-lee. For the no nonsense, there's Colt. And for the goofballs, there's good ol' Tum Tum. Every group of three is comprised, to some degree, of this makeup. Your movie allowed for lovers, loners, and jokers to all envision themselves as heroes. Trust me, having inclusive movies like these does wonders for kids' self-esteem.
We understand that the spotlight is not for everybody. Perhaps your collective experiences as child actors on the Ninjas movies turned you off from a Hollywood career. Perhaps it was never your intention to get into showbiz in the first place, but your affinity for martial arts and unparalleled screen presences made for the opportunity of big screen starring roles that you just couldn't turn down. But we're more inclined to believe an alternative theory:
You're actually ninjas. In real life. And ever since the movies blew up, the three of you went undercover, forming a secret squad of defenders of justice (handling the cases that FBI Agents like Alan McRae can't handle), making the world a better, albeit snappier and chaotically-edited place.
As such, we appreciate your desire to avoid the public eye. But on the off chance you are not actually real-life ninjas and are, in fact, just three regular adult males, then we reach out to you. As the purveyors of a story that gave so many children not just entertainment, but genuine life lessons, hope, and a new investment in the idea that you can truly be whatever you want to be, we look to you. We want to hear from you. We want to know what we can do to further present these values to the children of today. And most of all, we want to encourage the possibility of a 3 Ninjas: 20 Years Later. A reteaming of brothers Sam, Jeffrey, and Michael to honor the memory of their grandfather, maintain a cautious rebellion against their skeptical dad, and uphold the ideals of justice, family, and dreaming big.
From not only everyone at Hollywood.com, but from everyone who was between five and fifteen on August 7 in 1992, we thank you for giving us this beloved movie. And we hope to see you kick back again, soon.[Photo Credit: Touchstone Pictures]
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Kirsten Dunst may be what draws you in but Paul Bettany is the reason you don't walk out. The British actor who made an impression with American audiences playing the oh-so-witty Chaucer in A Knight's Tale and then wowed them in Oscar winners such as A Beautiful Mind and Master and Commander doesn't disappoint in his first lead role. Bettany's Peter embodies all that charm we've come to love and expect in our British actors--although thankfully not as floppy as Hugh Grant--he stumbles about and apologizes profusely. It's so cute. And he makes a pretty darn believable tennis player to boot (one would hope so after the intense training session the actors apparently had to go through to prepare for the movie). Unfortunately Dunst does not fare as well. Her Lizzie is appealing and she adequately handles the tennis stuff--but she ultimately fails to connect with her male lead making their relationship seem forced. Their beginning sparks are fun but when there's suppose to be a real flame igniting between them you're left scratching your head wondering just when where and why they fell in love so hard so fast. Yep that's a big red flag.
I've said sports movies usually work (see the Mr. 3000 review). To clarify: That is team sports. Sport movies where the action revolves around a single competitor are harder to pull off. It's just not as exciting watching an underdog struggle with himself in order to win. Luckily director Richard Loncraine (HBO's My House in Umbria) seems to know this fact. Even though Peter takes Centre Court (that's the British way of spelling it) Loncraine tries to at least create a more complete picture giving us a glimpse into the world of tennis as well as delving into the traditions of Wimbledon and how the Brits feel about the prestigious tournament where British champions are few and far between. Loncraine also utilizes real-life tennis pros such as John McEnroe and Chris Evert who appear as announcers to liven up the proceedings. Even the action on the court with close-up shots of the ball whizzing over the net gets the blood pumping a little--wish there was a lot more of that. But then of course one could just turn on the TV and watch the real Wimbledon instead watching a silly run-of-the-mill romantic comedy set there.
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The decision to cast filmmakers with little acting experience in several key roles is a gamble that doesn't exactly pay off. White a TV writer-producer who also penned "Chuck & Buck's" screenplay is an engagingly offbeat unnerving presence as Buck but he doesn't have the chops to keep building the performance over a 95-minute film. "American Pie" producer Weitz is stiff and unnatural as Chuck. His brother and directing partner Paul Weitz is better as a meathead actor Buck hires for a small play he produces.
Miguel Arteta ("Star Maps") shot his ultra-cheapie second feature on digital video and the crude results are little better than a home movie. Arteta and White manage to save the project however with their surprisingly dark view of Buck who gets more and more interesting as he gleefully subverts the contemporary Hollywood stereotype of geeks/gay men as the noble victims of macho abuse.