`3 Ninjas Kick Back,' And It's Pretty Much A Misstep

Movie review X 1/2 "3 Ninjas Kick Back," with Victor Wong, Max Elliott Slade. Directed by Charles T. Kanganis, from a screenplay by Mark Saltzman. Alderwood, Bay, Chalet, Crossroads, Factoria, Kent, Metro, Mountlake 9, Newmark, Oak Tree, Parkway Plaza, SeaTac Mall, Totem Lake. "PG" - Parental guidance suggested, because of mild karate violence.

1992's "3 Ninjas" was a surprising box-office hit with the Saturday matinee family crowd, earning the highest cost-to-profit ratio of that year and instantly mandating this all-too-unnecessary sequel.

Although it is as harmless as its predecessor - and "harmless" should not be mistaken for a compliment - there is only one sad conclusion to be drawn from this kind of profiteering kiddie fodder: We owe our children better than this.

Entertainment for its own sake is certainly no crime, and to its credit "3 Ninjas Kick Back," along with so many superficial kiddie comedies like the recent, even more abhorrent "Blank Check," does contain an obligatory lesson of sorts, qualifying as a tiny grain of medicine in a heaping spoonful of sugar.

But veteran South Korean film producer and "3 Ninjas" creator Simon Sheen have opted for easy money with the lowest investment of time and effort. The result is a movie in which the comic "highlights" involve a porky, snack-stuffing Little Leaguer who passes gas as he rounds the bases, and a trio of Ninja-fighting brothers who get a kick out of using the word "butt" when Mom and Dad aren't around. It's all about as cute as sun-dried roadkill.

The brothers are teen-agers Rocky, puberty-pushing Colt, and tough little 8-year-old Tum Tum. When they're not in their Ninja gear and kicking their opponents senseless, they're struggling teammates (so much for age divisions!) with the Dragons, a Little League baseball squad managed by their dad. They're gearing up for a big game when adventure takes them to Japan, where their Grandpa Mori (Victor Wong, returning from "3 Ninjas") is going to present a long-cherished ceremonial dagger to the champion of a Ninja tournament.

Trouble is, Grandpa's defeated opponent from 50 years earlier is seeking revenge by stealing the dagger, which functions as a key to a long-forgotten cave full of golden treasure. That's when the 3 Ninjas start kicking back.

It's really quite astonishing to watch this movie perpetuate ethnic stereotypes while passing itself off as decent family entertainment. Plenty of dusty slapstick humor guarantees at least a few guffaws from kids, but the tone of the humor is painfully condescending, talking down to its audience in a way that vintage kiddie movies like "The Love Bug" (my own childhood favorite) would never have dared.