For a movie about a calculating, silent killer, “Ninja Assassin” sure is dumb and loud. It’s uncreative, too. A typical gory movie might show someone getting sliced in half, but it’s usually the money shot, the big special effect they’ve been saving until the end of the movie. “Ninja Assassin” slices a guy in half in the first scene, and then continues to slice guys in half repeatedly for the next 90 minutes. Kinda loses its impact after the first dozen times, you know?
Directed by James McTeigue (“V for Vendetta”) and produced by “Matrix” creators Andy and Larry Wachowski, it’s about a Berlin-based Europol agent, Mika (Naomie Harris), investigating a series of murders that she believes were committed by ninjas — yes, the medieval Japanese warriors. Mika’s theory is that they have continued to operate in secret for the last couple hundred years, committing murders for hire without ever once being caught. Turns out she’s right, but it’s still a stupid theory. What, Europe doesn’t have regular ol’ serial killers and hitmen?
Among these ninjas is Raizo (Korean pop star Rain), a rogue assassin seeking to settle a score with his old associates, who are trained from childhood by a cruel sensei (Sho Kosugi) at a ninja academy. Abundant flashbacks show a teenage Raizo (Joon Lee) having a crush on a pretty ninjette-in-training, Kiriko (Anna Sawai), and enduring some kind of ill-explained rivalry with fellow teen ninja Takesh (Kai Fung Rieck). But Raizo’s character is never defined enough for us to be interested. Rain may be a pop star, but charismatic he isn’t, and the screenplay — originally by first-timer Matthew Sand, revised by “Babylon 5” creator J. Michael Straczynski — is hopelessly bland. All we really know is that Rain has parted ways with his ninja clan, and that they want him dead because of it. Yawn.
The film is essentially nonstop murder, graphic and bloody to the point of absurdity, and consistently mindless. The ninjas are depicted not just as stealthy and fast but as actual supernatural beings, disappearing as wisps of smoke when they move. Some of the fighting is reasonably stylish, but there’s no investment. It’s action without meaning, which gets boring very, very fast.
D (1 hr., 39 min.; )