Let’s get this out of the way: AMERICAN COMMANDO NINJA is not good. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Known by a few titles, including COMMANDO THE NINJA, this 1988 Z-movie is pretty unique. Researching the background can be an uphill climb, as it generally is with these lesser-known artifacts of off-kilter cinema.
AMERICAN COMMANDO NINJA features Godfrey Ho as a “story developer,” which is just excellent. Ho is one of those names that comes up when ninjas are in the picture, although Ho’s ninjas have their own special flair. His splicing-and-dicing technique makes it difficult to say just how much of his pictures are actually comprised of his pictures, but this one holds the distinction of being one of two shot-on-video ninja movies in the Ho catalogue. The other is BORN A NINJA. Probably.
AMERICAN COMMANDO NINJA details the journey of David, who may well be the titular ninja. He’s training in Japan when he’s dispatched to China to keep tabs on a secret formula that has something to do with germ warfare from World War II. Regrettably, David the Ninja’s soon finds himself in the middle of a war with the potential for disastrous consequences.
Now, there are many people after this formula and that’s where AMERICAN NINJA COMMANDO takes on its consequence. Two women are after it, for instance, and they want revenge because the creator of the formula is presumably responsible for the death of their parents. Their uncle is also out for revenge, so is some shady-looking dude with a pile of cronies.
And there is Larry, who shoots fire and becomes best friends with David. Larry and David develop a pretty, pretty, pretty good little bromance. It helps that they’re always dressed in their summer clothes. They ultimately pair off with the two aforementioned women because the two aforementioned women try to corner the ninjas to their respective sides.
AMERICAN COMMANDO NINJA is couched in the idea of generational violence. The uncle of the two vengeance-seeking sisters insists that the younger generation does not understand warfare, like in WWII. They don’t understand what it means to eat another human being, which may not be a bad thing?
The fight scenes of AMERICAN COMMANDO NINJA are muddled and generally difficult to follow. There’s a lot of irregularity, as you’d expect from a Ho joint, and that’s honestly fine. This is all about the instinctive badness, the sheer weirdness of Confederate flag shorts and all of the concomitant nonsense.
And look, AMERICAN COMMANDO NINJA is bad. But it’s not the worst picture in the world or perhaps even the worst picture of 1988 because there’s a weirdly sober roughness. Sure, the whole plot comes undone by the use of simple age-identifying math. And sure, a handshake lasts way too damn long. But this is entertaining crap and it’s seldom boring. That counts for something, right?