A Great Franchise Hits Its Nadir in AMERICAN NINJA 3: BLOOD HUNT, New On Blu

The first 4 American Ninja films, including American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt, were released on Blu-ray from Olive Films on August 16th.

This article is part of a short series reviewing the new American Ninja series Blu-rays from Olive Films. Please also check out parts 1 and 2 covering the first two films as well!

American Ninja 3 marked a turning point in the franchise with some major paradigm shifts, most notably the absence of Michael Dudikoff. The role of The American Ninja was replaced by an American ninja, with David Bradley stepping up to the title role. Less obviously, but just as critically, Cedric Sundstrom took the directorial reins from Sam Firstenberg. He would go on to direct part 4 as well.

Cutting to the chase? This one stinks. There’s just so much that went wrong.

The filmmakers had the good sense to write a new role for David Bradley rather than have him sub for Dudikoff as Joe Armstrong (a decision which paid off by allowing both to return to Part 4), but it still doesn’t gel. It’s not that David Bradley is necessarily bad in his role, but it’s clear that a key piece of the puzzle is missing. New protagonist Sean Davidson (Bradley) feels significantly less interesting, in a large part because he’s just dropped on the audience with no empathy or investment. Thankfully Steve James does return in the role of Curtis Jackson, but without the chemistry and camaraderie of Dudikoff’s Joe, a lot of the appeal is gone.

This might all be forgivable if the film excelled in other areas, but that’s not the case — its myriad problems include a nonsensical story, poor pacing, lazy action, and the worst crime of all — it’s interminably dull.

Things start off promisingly enough with the classic Enter The Dragon setup. You’ve seen it in Mortal Kombat, Tekken, and a half dozen other video games (or their movie adaptations): an enigmatic supervillain hosts an elite martial arts tournament on a remote island. While not original, it’s a solid setup for some martial arts action. But almost as soon as Sean and Curtis make each others’ acquaintance, that premise is completely jettisoned for an incredibly dumb development: a ninja is able to put on a wig and rubber mask and convincingly pose as Sean’s sensei, before being “kidnapped”. The ruse works, and Sean “tracks” them to their base, falling right into their trap and taking his new pals, Curtis and some terrible sidekick, with him.

Once again we have a megalomaniacal scientist doing illegal experimentation, this time in biological warfare, and he wants the American Ninja as his test subject. Yeah, I don’t understand it either. This whole plot is nonsense. On the plus side, reformed phony evangelist-turned-actor Marjoe Gortner plays this villain with great zeal.

There’s an elaborate action sequence in which the trio infiltrate the enemy compound — from a technical perspective the stunt they pull here is kind of cool, but this whole sequence begins by casually stealing a pair of gliders and a pickup truck from a civilian. Even though they have their reasons for needing them, it’s alarming to see such unheroic behavior from ostensibly heroic characters.

Aside from a silly and meandering story, the film’s other big problem is that it drags. The fights aren’t nearly as interestingly staged or performed this time around, and the stuff in between is even worse. Even my man Steve James is looking pretty bored and uncharacteristically wooden. And I haven’t even mentioned the major subplot involving a double-crossing kunoichi with the world’s worst haircut who poses as other characters.

This movie goes toe-to-toe with M:I-2 in dramatic rubber mask removals.

The Package

American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt arrived on Blu-ray on August 16, along with the other films in the franchise.

The discs come in flat-spined Blu-ray cases and share a similar design aesthetic such that they have a nice shelf presence together.

Special Features and Extras

Strike Me Deadly (13:49)
 Director Cedric Sundstrom and executive producer Avi Lerner describe the film’s creative process and the casting of David Bradley, and Writer Gary Conway (who not only wrote American Ninja 2 but played its villain “The Lion”), pops in to (rightly) express his dissatisfaction at the way his script was mishandled.

David Bradley’s Audition Tape (6:44)
 An interesting look at the casting process. Bradley gets criticized for being the lame off-brand American Ninja, but from these impressive screen tests one can see why he was cast.

Theatrical Trailer

American Ninja 3 is a franchise reaching its lowest ebb (unless you count the non-canon American Ninja 5, which most fans don’t). There’s some action and some laughs, but none of it comes together in service to anything greater than a lackluster sequel. Fans and completionists who want the entire set will obviously grab this, but unlike the first two American Ninja films, I can’t give it my recommendation. Somewhat surprisingly though, the series rebounds a bit with American Ninja 4.

A/V Out.

Further reading:
 Blu-ray Review of American Ninja
 Blu-ray Review of American Ninja 2: The Confrontation
 Ed Travis on American Ninja 3

Get it at Amazon:
 American Ninja — [Blu-ray] | [DVD] | [Instant]
 American Ninja 2 — [Blu-ray] | [DVD] | [Instant]
 American Ninja 3 — [Blu-ray] | [DVD] | [Instant]
 American Ninja 4 — [Blu-ray] | [DVD] | [Instant]

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