Beverly Hills Ninja

Beverly Hills Ninja. Tristar Pictures 1997.

Before watching the movie:

I think I only just realized how commonly “Beverly Hills” is used as an adjective meant to evoke something in the vicinity of “spoiled rich white people”. As someone who grew up only vaguely aware that Beverly Hills is a neighborhood in California, (Beverly Hills 90210 was popular in my childhood but I have seen zero seconds of it and didn’t even know what it was about) I never really picked up on a deeper meaning. I was most aware of The Beverly Hillbillies, and it took a long time to click with me that the town itself was supposed to connote the richest of the rich and the family wasn’t just in the richest neighborhood in your typical town.

I would really like to see this movie do a little more with Farley’s character than have us point and laugh at him for the whole run. However, I don’t have high hopes for him to have much dignity. Maybe at best, this can be something that Kung Fu Panda owes a lot to while improving upon it.

After watching the movie:

Years ago, a white baby washed ashore at a ninja dojo and was raised by the clan in the belief that he would fulfill the legend of the master known as the Great White Ninja. Unfortunately, the boy Haru grows up to be a clumsy disaster with no ninja skills. When the clan go out on a mission and leave Haru behind to “protect the dojo”, an American woman arrives looking for a ninja to help her by stealthily investigating what her boyfriend Martin Tanley is up to. Immediately smitten, Haru claims to be the best ninja she could have come to and follows Tanley to a secret meeting where he takes a set of counterfeiting plates and kills the man who sold them to him, but when the police show up, they find Haru with the body, leading them to look for a white ninja as the prime suspect. Haru is unable to tell the woman this before she returns to America, and it seems that nobody knows the name she gave him, but she fits the description of Alison Page. Haru’s sensei warns Haru that she probably wanted a ninja to frame for her boyfriend’s crime, but Haru is determined to go to America to help her, with the only lead being a matchbook from a Beverly Hills hotel. The sensei tasks Haru’s adoptive brother Gobei, the best ninja in the dojo, to shadow Haru, helping him in complete secrecy.

This is probably a parody of the “white man is the best at a nonwhite tradition” plot that a lot of stories fall into, but at times in the beginning it seems like it’s trying to play it as straight as possible given the clumsy, hapless lead. There were points where I was sure that Haru was going to magically fulfill the prophecy in the end. Thankfully, his level up comes more from putting aside his desperation to be a great ninja and fighting in his own way.

A lot of the short runtime of this movie is padded out by Farley doing slapstick bits or adlibbing in ways that don’t necessarily make sense for Haru. He perfectly impersonates a boisterous chattering American because the other guy is basically a Chris Farley stock character, not because Haru would be able to perfectly mimic his mannerisms under pressure after less than an hour with the man.

This movie isn’t as anti-funny as I worried it would be, but it’s not as absolutely hilarious as the filmmakers thought it would be. The orientalism isn’t as heavy as I thought but it does seem like a throwback to the 80s or early 90s (apparently it was in development since at least 1990). It’s not something I would warn people away from, but there are probably better movies to occupy one’s time.

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