Movie Review: “The LEGO Ninjago Movie” smells like “Enough already”



So the Danish toymaker LEGO just announced massive layoffs because kids aren’t buying enough of their snap-together designer toys.

Their latest movie isn’t helping the bottom line all that much. “The LEGO Ninjago Movie” opened to a paltry (for animation) $20 million last weekend. Variety reports Warners spent a fortune on TV advertising on the monstrosity. And all it did was tip filmgoers — especially the young — that it isn’t very funny.

Heaven knows I avoided seeing it as long as I could.

But hey, there’s the new interactive Ninjago Ride to pull in park patrons at LEGOland California and LEGOland Florida. So maybe all this corporate synergy — movies that sell toys and theme park tickets, toys that draw moviegoers and park visitors — will pay off down the line.

Because darned if there’s an honest to Pete laugh in this film. “Ninjago,” with its slapdash script by like a dozen credited (story and screenplay) writers, three directors and 101 minutes of talking, kung-fu fighting plastic toys, should send this franchise back to direct-to-video where it belongs.

After the unexpected delights and Oscar-winning song of “The LEGO Movie,” “Ninjago” shows LEGO movies jumpingthe shark — literally.

A city not-unlike Hong Kong — Hey, LEGOland Shanghai opens in 2022, coindence I’m sure. — Ninjago lives under the menace of a four-armed villain named Garmadon, voiced by Justin Theroux.

And no slap at Theroux, but if you can’t get Will Arnett to do your dark-voiced wise-cracker villain (or hero), maybe don’t make the movie.

Garmadon terrorizes Ninjago from his volcanic lair just offshore, leading his minions (no, Universal doesn’t own the label) and their “mechs” (cool LEGO gadget planes, subs, etc.) in raids, shooting sharks at the natives, sharks who go “Num num num num num” as they rain down on all the plastic people.

A team of six young ninjas are all that can stop him, ninjas whose skills are named for water, ice, fire, earth and who-cares-what-the-others-are?

One of them is Lloyd (Dave Franco), who just happens to be Garmadon’s son. They’re so estranged the villain doesn’t know how to pronounce his kid’s name — “Luh-Lloyd.” Two ‘l’s,’ right?

Things get bad enough where the ninjas have to call upon “the ultimate weapon.” Hint, it’s something that the big, furry pet that is the bane of LEGO kids the world over, a joke given away in the trailers, is crazy for. And if that doesn’t work, there’s always “the ultimate ULTIMATE weapon.”

And the quest that may bring father and son back together is to the “Temple of Fragile Foundations.” Eleven credited writers, back-engineering jokes into a movie designed to sell toys, and that’s what they came up with.

The story is told by a Chinese curiosity shop owner (Jackie Chan) to a little boy who comes in to see his wares in a live-action prologue. That casting will also help with the Chinese market, though it does zilch for the movie.

The slangy-jokey dialogue is of the “I’m totes profesh” variety, the best musical gag is the Chinese flute-playing teacher, Master Wu (Chan again) bleeping out “It’s a Hard Knock Life.”

In other words, the dull, exhausted toy ad that the TV commercials for this film prophesied came true. Unless you’re totes’ ‘sessed with plastic toys fighting, flirting and telling lame jokes, “Ninjago” has nothing to offer.

As a franchise, LEGO movies are toast. Totes’.


MPAA Rating: PG for some mild action and rude humor

Cast: The voices of Jackie Chan, Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Fred Armisen, Michael Pena, Abbi Jacobson, Ali Wong, Charlene Yi

Credits: Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher and Bob Logan, script by Bob Logan, Paul Fisher, Tom Wheeler, William Wheeler, Jared Stern and John Whittington A Warner Brothers release.

Running time: 1:41

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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