Ninja Turtles Save Face In Time-Traveling Sequel

XX "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III," with Elias Koteas, Paige Turco, Stuart Wilson, Sab Shimono, John Aylward, Vivian Wu and the voice of Corey Feldman. Written and directed by Stuart Gillard. Aurora, Crossroads, Factoria, Gateway, Grand Cinemas Alderwood, Metro, Newmark, Parkway Plaza, Totem Lake. "PG" - Parental guidance advised because of violence. --------------------------------------------------------------- Less amateurish than the 1990 original, less embarrassing than the 1991 sequel (with its mind-boggling Vanilla Ice ninja-rap number), this may be the easiest installment in the series for parents to sit through.

Kids may be another matter. There's a lot of plot to work through, and perhaps not enough action and comedy to please the most devoted fans of Michelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo and Raphael. Then again, it's been two years since their last movie, and that may be enough to set matinee box-office records this weekend.

This time the Turtles and their faithful companion, April (Paige Turco), have been sent back in time to 17th-century Japan. The place looks a lot like the Oregon coast, where the movie was shot last summer, and April's 20th- century friend, Casey, looks a lot like a 17th-century character named Whit, undoubtedly because both parts are played by Elias Koteas (a veteran of all three "Turtles" movies). The filmmakers apparently didn't want everything about the setting to seem unfamiliar to American audiences.

The 17th-century story line revolves around a ruthless Japanese warlord (Sab Shimono), his rebellious son (Henry Hayashi), an English mercenary (Stuart Wilson), his foolish sidekick (Seattle actor John Aylward), a threatened princess (Vivian Wu) and a mutineer from Wilson's ship (Koteas as Whit).

At times, the Turtles appear to be playing supporting roles in their own movie. British character actor Wilson, giving a smoothly nasty, Captain Hook-like flourish to his role, makes the most of the few good lines in a script that doesn't allow enough room for Turtles horseplay, dances or jokes.

True, the quartet get to complain about the lack of pizza and condos, and they introduce English-speaking Japanese warlords to catch phrases like "Make my day" and "I'll be back."

But the human heroes and villains take up most of the running time. Even they aren't given enough culture-clash gags to make the result more than moderately amusing.

"Turtles III" may satisfy fans for the moment, and it will undoubtedly sell plenty of bedsheets, toys, games, lunch boxes and T-shirts. But will they be hungry for writer-director Stuart Gillard's promised fourth installment?