Beverly Hills Ninja Review
According to Chris Farley sometime before his death, Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels told him that what killed John Belushi was that he always had to be the most outrageous person in the room. Farley’s life strangely mimicked his idol Belushi, and perhaps what killed them both was the very thing that made them so great. Their excess on-screen fueled by their excess off it, both dieing in similar fashion, both aged 33.
Chris Farley’s big break came with Saturday Night Live, where he made his impersonations and characters come to life with many other talented up-and-comers. He was famed for his characterization of motivational speaker Matt Foley and Newt Gingrich, as well as a flabby Chippendales dancer and an unhealthy sports fan. He left SNL in 1995 to pursue a career in film, and had cameo parts alongside other SNL alumni and friends, Adam Sandler, Mike Myers, Dana Carvey and Dan Aykroyd. He was the dumb cop in Airheads, and he was the kinetic bus driver in Billy Madison, alongside Sandler, while he worked with Myers and Carvey in the Wayne’s World films, playing two different parts in each. In Coneheads, Farley had the small part of boyfriend to Aykroyd’s alien daughter. He would go on to have starring roles in four films before his career was cut short, working alongside David Spade, and in his final film Almost Heroes (a title that bares a saddening undertone given his early death), with Friends star Matthew Perry.
Tommy Boy marked the pinnacle of Farley’s movie career, and while his other efforts showed his talents, they couldn’t quite cut it as films with any redeemable features. Black Sheep was great in parts, but director Penelope Spheeris wasn’t on Wayne’s World form and Fred Wolf’s script was a big let down. Little seen Almost Heroes again showed Farley’s talent as an actor, but as a film itself, it was better forgotten. Beverly Hills Ninja was the perfect stage for Farley’s comic genius to bloom, but once again, like Black Sheep, the film is let down by a weak script and direction.
However, it’s a mark of how great Farley was, in that he could turn a script with largely nothing original or remotely funny, into something that entices the audience to keep watching and has them laughing uncontrollably. It’s even more remarkable that he alone can turn Beverly Hills Ninja into a watchable, insanely funny piece of entertainment. Every director that worked with him knew to just let him have fun with the character, their job reduced to just keeping the camera rolling. In this film, Farley certainly wasn’t going to find much help from director Dennis Dugan. The man at the helm, whose collection of brain-achingly poor films (Problem Child, Saving Silverman, and National Security), showed physical proof he needed talented actors to save his films, and in Beverly Hills Ninja he got just that in Farley. Likewise, the success of Dugan’s best film Happy Gilmore and another one of his better outings, Big Daddy, were down to the lead actor, in this case Adam Sandler. Farley gives his best in Beverly Hills Ninja, but while the film doesn’t hit the almighty lows of Dugan’s celluloid excrement, the late actor’s performance is the only thing to make this film recommendable. But, especially for his fans, perhaps that’s the only reason there needs to be.
Essentially, Beverly Hills Ninja is a typical fish-out-of-water tale, telling the story of Haru, the Great White Ninja. According to the Ninja’s teaching, a white man would grow up to be a ‘great’ Ninja, under their tutelage. Unfortunately for them, the baby that turns up on their shores grows up to be a stupid, overweight failure, whose naïve nature and carelessness, continually gets him into trouble. The Ninjas, sensing the opportunity to get rid of him, allow Haru to take on the task of helping woman-in-distress, Allison (Nicolette Sheridan). So Haru hops across the pond to Beverly Hills and uncovers a plot to counterfeit money, but as he quickly finds out, life in America is very different from where he has lived his entire life.
Undeniably, Farley is great in this film. His loveable idiotic flaws making any audience warm to his eccentrics. The training sequence where he learns to use the Ninja techniques and weapons is perfect visual humour, while his eye for timing a punch line is always spot on. He doesn’t have David Spade (his comedy partner and co-star in Tommy Boy and Black Sheep) to play off in this film, but this hardly hinders him, allowing all the limelight to centre on him. Having Farley’s character the clueless hero in a strange world he doesn’t understand, couldn’t work any better for his style of comedy and Farley duly milks every opportunity to spoof societal conventions. The problems arise from a script that never really knows where it’s going, and Dugan’s ineffectiveness to combat such a problem. Farley’s on the screen almost the entire time, making not a single frame missable or lacking laughs, but Dugan has the film aimlessly moving from scene to scene. Sympathy for Haru comes from Farley’s ability to instill an emotional sincerity in his character – Haru tries his hardest and his heart is in the right place. However, we don’t actually care whether he succeeds at his mission, and for the most part, Dugan’s film seemingly forgets what Haru’s quest actually is.
In supporting roles, Robin Shou is bland and Nathaniel Parker is an awfully woeful villain, but Nicolette Sheridan is perfectly acceptable as the female love interest and a young Chris Rock offers one or two laughs in a small part. Ultimately, like any Chris Farley film, an appreciation of such will rely on whether Farley’s humour is of interest. Beverly Hills Ninja is great fun, and Farley is perfect in the role, but the director’s inadequacies might put off anyone from bothering with this film.
Adam Sandler once said of Farley, ‘What really hurts is not getting to hang out with him ever again. He really was the only guy I ever met in my life that you were guaranteed to be happy hanging with. Even when he was down he still found a way to make you happy.’ Clearly, the joy he brought to people off screen, he brought to his fans on it, and like his inspiration John Belushi, who left us Blues Brothers, Farley’s comic genius will proudly live on in Tommy Boy. Of course, past their career highs, there’s always the likes of Animal House and Beverly Hills Ninja to offer a change, and to remind of the great things that could have been.
The picture is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and anamorphic enhanced. The image is excellent displaying vibrant colours with good definition. A 'full frame' version can be found on side B of the disc.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack doesn't live up to the quality of the image. Dialogue is fine but the soundtrack never allows for surround effects to fill the soundstage, leaving the sound feeling rather lifeless.
The added features don't really register. A theatrical trailer is the only thing worth mentioning.
Beverly Hills Ninja might not be the actor's finest hour (and a half), but for fans of Chris Farley it marks the latter stages of the actor's life and career. At a budget price, it's worth your time.
See also my reviews of Tommy Boy and Black Sheep