American Ninja 2: The Confrontation Review
“Tell me. What would Japanese assassins be doing in this part of the world? Taking a vacation?”
Subsequent to American Ninja’s box office success, director Sam Firstenberg helmed 1986’s Avenging Force - a film originally intended for Chuck Norris, who had just wrapped up Cannon classic Invasion U.S.A. (for which this was supposedly a sequel to) and was ready to start work on The Delta Force. Avenging Force ultimately served as an excuse to pair up Michael Dudikoff and Steve James once again, who were proven to be a reliable team: Dudikoff this time taking over Norris’s original character of Matt Hunter, and James playing his doomed bestest friend Larry, in a sequel made in the loosest possible sense. It whisked them away from the Philippines to New Orleans, where, with a little bit of fine tweaking, it could just as well have served as a respectable sequel to American Ninja. Menahem Golan undoubtedly saw this, as during the film’s editing process, he asked Firstenberg to begin preparations on American Ninja 2: The Confrontation. James, who was left bitterly disappointed by Avenging Force, gave Firstenberg an ultimatum if he were to return to the American Ninja franchise: More action, more humour and a love interest.
When several marines are reported missing on a tropical island, Joe (Michael Dudikoff) and Curtis (Steve James) are sent to investigate. During their search they manage to ruffle the feathers of Leo “The Lion” (Gary Conway, also credited screenwriter here): a drug baron who controls the majority of the population.
After laying waste to some of Leo’s henchmen, Joe and Curtis learn that Leo has kidnapped Professor Sanborn (Ralph Draper) and is forcing him to create a new breed of genetically enhanced ninjas. Sanborn’s daughter, Alicia (Michelle Botes) teams up with Joe and Curtis and together they kick major arse.
Uprooting its action from the Philippines to South Africa and with a reported budget of almost 75% less than that of the first film - though it doesn’t really show - American Ninja 2: The Confrontation (I’d argue that the first movie also featured its fair share of hostility) has the honour of being a sequel which is better than the original movie. The simple reasons for this is that Firstenberg is working from a much leaner script, which places its focus more intently on the partnership between Steve James and Michael Dudikoff, who develop their characters whilst being set against a more comedic backdrop, not least of which is South Africa trying to masquerade as a Caribbean island; a few accents are a dead giveaway for a start, while most have been completely re-dubbed. Given the absurdity of the plotting here, which involves bio-engineered super ninjas, such a call for lightheartedness proves most beneficial, particularly given the fairly straight-played mystery surrounding Joe’s past from the first movie being well and truly resolved. In addition to this half the cast are hilariously awful. Honourable mention goes to Jeff Weston’s “Wild Bill”, who admittedly gets all the
worst best lines.
As such, American Ninja 2 delights with its brilliant sense of pacing, dispensing with lengthy bouts of exposition in favour of delivering a fight sequence practically every ten minutes or so, many of which involve our heroes usually entering the same bar just seconds before being accosted by the local scum; amusingly enough they tend to involve the same trio of ruffians, capable of regenerative healing, who can never seem to learn their lesson. However, given the sheer relentlessness of the action here, one can only smile from ear to ear when presented with such well choreographed comic mayhem, set to George S. Clinton’s terrific synth score. Mike Strong returns as fight choreographer and takes on the role of the main villain’s nasty sidekick, unsurprsingly outclassing Dudikoff and James in just about every respect but unfortunately not being awarded nearly as many fight scenes as he deserves. Still, Dudikoff shows notable improvements, despite his scenes being so frivourously edited, while Steve James enjoys some longer takes as he showcases his natural ability for manhandling and grunting, being fully aware of how silly the whole thing clearly is. A little romance is also thrown in, seeing both Joe and Curtis (be on the lookout for James courting his future wife, Nava Halimi) having a little extra fun.
If any negativity were to be levelled at American Ninja 2, it would be purely on the basis that a lot of its narrative components feel derivative of the first flick: the ninja-obsessed, government-controlling drug lord who is nowhere near as scary as his henchman; the gun-toting finale featuring Steve James going nuts, commendably so; and learning that multi-millionaire villains love to put on lavish showcases, upon which lots of their specially trained rainbow warriors are murdered before the eyes of prospective clients, in order to prove some kind of point that they’re actually terrible fighters and that only one guy blessed with ninja magic provides enough financial clout, apparently.
American Ninja 2 is presented once more at 1.85:1, using an MPEG-4 AVC encode at 1080p. I would wager that the image appears a little grainier than the first, possibly due to a different film stock being used, but it appears free from any major tinkering; there's no sharpened edges and compression artefacts are largely kept at bay. Skin tones do appear noticeably greyer during certain shots, with contrast not being quite on point, although colours are otherwise generally pleasing. Detail though is decent, with exterior shots fairing very well and there is only minor instances of dirt appearing on the print. It’s difficult to say if it should look better than it does here, though with that said it’s far from poor.
For sound we’re left with an English LPCM 2.0 track, and much like the first film it does the job: Dialogue is clear and the action sequences sound quite robust given the limitations here. Nice job.
Unfortunately, the option to have English subtitles has been negated. It really shouldn’t be an issue these days and I hope 88 Films rectify future releases by providing them as standard.
The only added feature to the disc is an audio commentary with Director Sam Firstenberg and 2nd Unit Director and Stunt Coordinator B.J. Davis. Compared to the commentary track on American Ninja this is a much more pleasurable listen. Both participants give each other necessary room to breath, with Firstenberg allowed to tell a few nice anecdotes, along with providing geographical info and fun facts with good humour - the office scene in which Michael Dudikoff has clearly been replaced by a stunt double being one such highlight. Davis, meanwhile, is quick to namedrop cast and crew members, giving props to several stunt members, while paying tribute to the recently passed, along with saying some nice words about Steve James. As with the first commentary, the director laments Dudikoff’s absence on the track, informing us that he’s currently working on a film, but drops some hints that a new instalment in the franchise is in gestation. Whether we actually see it or not remains to be seen. There are a few lengthy pauses here and there, but in all this is an enjoyable listen.