“Ninja Badass” is a no-budget novelty, a midnight movie splatter comedy that kind of picks up where “The Foot Fist Way” left off.
Writer-director and star Ryan Harrison mashes up kung fu sorcery — no character in it can keep the idea that “Ninjas are from Japan” straight — and Hoosier redneck rubery with sometimes amusing results.
It’s audaciously raunchy, reaching for laughs with genital mutilation and puppies in food processors, where every explosion and effect is cheaper than the one that preceded it because it wears its cheap cheesiness like a homemade aluminum foil badge of honor.
Harrison is the guy who did the visual effects for “The Revenant” — no, not the Leo-wins-an-Oscar “Revenant,” but the cheesy horror title that preceded it into theaters. He knows intentionally obvious and stupid effects — a Matchbox car set fire, a “baby” that’s actually a doll with video of an infant’s face for a head — are damned funny to a viewer in the right (altered) frame of mind.
Harrison stars as a slacker/doofus ex-con living in his mom’s ancient single-wide, whose walls are covered in log cabin wallpaper cuz’ that’s how they roll in rural Indiana, the Mississippi of the Midwest.
Rex has no job, no notion of work. But he’s inspired by these gonzo TV ads inviting people to join the Ninja VIP Super Club run by this nut who calls himself Big Twitty (Darrell Francis).
Big Twitty promises to teach students the basics of being a ninja — “Sneakin’, spinnin’ and KILLIN’!”
Rex is hooked, and maybe he can talk his camo-clad dumbass pal Kano (Mitch Schlagel) to join up, too.
But a random visit to a pet store (even the sets look DIY) in search of python eggs shows Rex and Kano the REAL Big Twitty. He charges in with his stumblebum ninjas, trashes the place, stuffs all the puppies in a garbage sack and kidnaps the “hot babe” clerk (Lisa Schnellbacher) whom Rex crushes on in the most unrequited way imaginable.
Big Twitty and his gang beats the hell out of anybody they encounter — with the BAG OF PUPPIES, mind you — and take what they want. Because when the cops show up (in a Chevy Bolt), they just yank out a bazooka and blow up the crime scene. They’re in Big Twitty’s thrall.
There’s nothing for it but for Rex and maybe Kano to train with this “Asian” geezer in camo (Steven C. Rose) who shows up to confront Big Twitty and his “evil ninja cannibal death cult,” and gets his arm yanked off for his trouble. Haskell can teach them to be Ninja Badasses, so Rex “can save that girl, she’ll fall in love with me and we’ll have sex” and Big Twitty’s reign of Terre Haute terror can be stopped.
The sight gags rain on this picture like a plague of locusts. Haskell’s ninja super power makes his arm grow back — slowly. It’s a tentacular stalk with a doll-baby’s hand on the end, and Harrison films this arm from a shoulder’s eye view to emphasize how silly it looks slapping Rex and Kano around, reaching for doorbells and the like.
We also see fights from the knife-blade’s point of view, or in lurching slo-mo to emphasize how much time Big Twitty has to see the “camouflaged” Haskell coming so’s he can yank off the old fart’s arm.
Haskell takes a break in mid-training session (paid for in egg rolls) to sing a song with a series of green-screen backgrounds turning it into a music video.
The composer of the tune, the filmmakers want us to know, wrote ditties for Joe Exotic on that crazy tiger collector/abuser Netflix series. It’s a credit — like hoping you mistake which “Revenant” Harrison did effects for — that’s its own ignominious laugh.
But making a midnight movie and setting out to make a midnight movie are often two different enterprises. Expecting people to laugh at every intentionally obvious effect gets old, as do the wackadoodle, strained “out there” performances.
The film I kept thinking of during the long pauses between anything seriously funny was the equally cheap/hilariously cheesy “Psycho Goreman,” which was almost as mean, but broader and funnier, start to finish.
“Tucker & Dale vs. Evil” ran into a lot of the same problems as “Ninja.” The hick humor wears thin and the few almost-funny lines beg for vamping and over-the-cop camp from the performers, which they only rarely render in entertaining tones.
Harrison relies too much of his small-town-metal-band hairdo and occasional burst of energy to put Rex over, with a little Will Ferrell “let’s show me naked again” for shock value.
I’ll admit I was probably too sober watching this to appreciate its finer points — or ignore how much the picture slows down in the middle acts.
But for me, “Ninja Badass” runs out of gas at about the “half-assed” point.
Rating: unrated, gory violence, sex, nudity, profanity
Cast: Ryan Harrison, Tatiana Ortiz, Mitch Schlagel, Steven C. Rose, Lisa Schnellbacher and Darrell Francis,
Credits: Scripted, directed and produced by Ryan Harrison. A Film Movement release.
Running time: 1:43