Let’s say you write a weekly column about bad movies, and that this column is extraordinarily popular and has made you beloved the world over. (LET’S JUST SAY.) Then let’s say someone suggests as fodder for this column something called “Surf Ninjas,” which of course you have not seen, because why would you have seen a movie called “Surf Ninjas”? You’d be more likely to watch a movie called “Your Parents Having Sex.” So you watch “Surf Ninjas,” expecting it to be awful — which it is — but when it’s over all you can think about is the title. “Surf Ninjas.” A group of people got together and made a film called “Surf Ninjas.” On purpose. A major Hollywood studio provided financing and employed dozens of technicians, actors, and craftsmen to produce a piece of entertainment, and the end result was offered to consumers under the title “Surf Ninjas.” All of this actually occurred, in our reality, during our lifetimes.
It’s not like “Surf Ninjas” was the only logical title. The film contains very little surfing and no ninjas. Ninjas were medieval Japanese warriors; the people the movie thinks are ninjas are modern-day assassins from a country that is not Japan. The movie seems to think a “ninja” is any Asian person who gets into a fight. But there’s a fighting Asian and a little bit of surfing in “The Karate Kid,” too, and nobody wanted to call that movie “Surf Ninjas.” Why? Because “Surf Ninjas” is a terrible title. It signals to the audience that regardless of what they might have thought based on the previews, watching this movie will cause nothing but misery. For if the filmmakers have made an error as monumental as calling their work “Surf Ninjas,” how can they be trusted to get anything else right?
Oh, and the film co-stars Rob Schneider, which I probably could have mentioned up front and saved myself a lot of time.
Eric’s Bad Movies: Surf Ninjas (1993)
This film co-stars Rob Schneider. The end.
You wouldn’t think a movie about Asian surfers would involve Rob Schneider, but you wouldn’t have thought a movie about the Jamaican bobsled team would involve John Candy, either. Life is full of surprises. “Surf Ninjas” is basically a desperate, smart-alecky sitcom, and Schneider is the wacky neighbor. The main characters are 16-year-old Johnny (Ernie Reyes Jr.) and his 11-year-old brother, Adam (Nicolas Cowan), boys from the fictional island nation of Patu San — located between Vietnam and the Philippines — who were adopted by a nice old white guy named Mac (John Karlen). They live in Santa Monica and spend all their time surfing and playing video games and not doing their homework and just generally slacking off. They are the kind of kids who would be followed around by a laugh track if they were in a sitcom, and who in a few years will be total potheads, you can mark my words.
Schneider plays Iggy, their obnoxious neighbor and classmate. (Yes, 30-year-old Rob Schneider plays a high school student. To be fair, though, Rob Schneider never graduated from high school.) Johnny, Adam, and Iggy go about their school day, actively avoiding work and doing their best to appear ignorant, because ignorance is “funny.” Young audiences love to see their peers depicted as lazy morons! It gives them something to shoot for. While this is going on, the boys are stalked by a pair of “ninjas” who are trying to murder them but keep getting thwarted by another warrior who is also for some reason the film’s narrator, even though the film doesn’t need a narrator. The movie refuses to explain why any of this is happening, making its use of a narrator even more offensive. (“I’m going to talk a lot — but I’m not going to tell you anything!”)
After about 20 minutes of this, during which Rob Schneider says one million things, not one of which is funny, we finally get the lowdown. Unbeknownst to them, Johnny and Adam are the sons of the king of Patu San, who was slain, along with the rest of the royal family, during a violent coup. The “ninja”-thwarting narrator, named Zatch (Ernie Reyes Sr., father of the boy who plays Johnny), managed to get the kids safely to Mac, who happened to be in Patu San when the coup took place, just vacationing, I guess, or whatever one does in fictional unstable Southeast Asian countries. And now the boys are in danger because there was a prophecy that foretold Johnny’s ascension to the throne, and the current leader of Patu San wants to prevent that from happening, hence the “ninjas.”
It’s a little weird that Johnny and Adam have no memory of ever having lived in Patu San. Even if Adam was an infant when the coup happened, Johnny would have been 5 years old. My best guess is that Superman’s Kiss of Forgetfulness was involved. (I mean it. That really is my best guess.) At any rate, while the “ninjas” were unable to kill the boys, they did manage to abduct Mac and take him to Patu San. Newly filled in on their royal pedigree and eager to avenge past wrongs, Johnny, Adam, Iggy, and Zatch head for Patu San! They are accompanied by a teenage Patu Sani girl named Ro-May (Kelly Hu), who was betrothed to Johnny when they were both infants and who lives in L.A. now, which is very convenient. Also joining them on the trip: the rapper Tone Loc.
For reals! I am not making that up! Why would I? I even jotted it in my notes: “For some reason Tone Loc is here.” That’s a direct quote. The gravel-throated warbler of such popular tunes as “Funky Cold Medina” and that other song that sounded like “Funky Cold Medina” but wasn’t does indeed appear in this film. He plays a police lieutenant investigating the attacks on the boys and the abduction of Mac, and somehow he accidentally winds up on the cargo ship taking everyone to Patu San. His luck could have been worse, though. While a normal cargo ship would take more than a week to travel from Los Angeles to Southeast Asia, this particular ship does it in a day. If you have to stumble aboard a cargo ship bound for the Orient, you should definitely stumble aboard the fastest cargo ship ever built!
Johnny is the one destined to be king, but there is greatness in store for his li’l bro Adam, too: He is prophesied to become the king’s seer and prophet. Adam has a Sega Game Gear device, better known as “the thing Sega made after Nintendo made the Game Boy,” and the game he’s playing throughout the film keeps mirroring what’s happening in real life! For example, he knows that “ninja” assassins are about to attack the house because he sees them in the Game Gear. Did Nintendo’s Game Boy ever foretell the future? I DO NOT BELIEVE SO.
Speaking of the future, it is apparently inevitable. It was prophesied that in addition to taking the throne, Johnny would become a great fighter. This is manifested when, while battling the “ninjas,” Johnny suddenly … becomes a great fighter. Just like that. He’s as astonished as everyone else, delighted to see his hands and feet acting with minds of their own to kick the a**es of the a**a**ins. But this introduces some troubling questions about predestination versus free will. What if Johnny doesn’t WANT to become a warrior and king of Patu San? Has he no choice? Evidently his fighting skills are going to emerge no matter what. Will he likewise be thrust onto the throne regardless of his actions? And if so, why bother trying so hard? Why not just sit back and let it happen, since it’s apparently going to happen anyway? These are some of the questions I asked myself when I wasn’t thinking about the title “Surf Ninjas,” which was not very often.
The usurping king of Patu San, by the way, is named Colonel Chi, and he is played by — wait, this can’t be right — Leslie Nielsen? Famed comic actor and non-Asian Leslie Nielsen? Is “Surf Ninjas” going to address 20th-century imperialism and the encroachment of white nations into foreign territories on top of its already insightful examination of theological predestination? Or did they just run out of Asian actors and have to call in a white dude? Whatever the case, Leslie Nielsen is the bumbling leader of Patu San now. Johnny, Adam, Iggy, Zatch, Ro-May, and Tone Loc easily overtake his guards — turns out all it takes to stage a coup in this country is a few kids, a comedian, and a rapper — and order is restored to the nation once again. It proves to be so easy, in fact, that I suspect the only reason no one bothered to overthrow Colonel Chi before now is that no one cared. Well, it’s your country now, Johnny. Sit back and let whatever’s going to happen anyway happen!