Scraping the Barrel: #94: ‘3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain’

Thousands and thousands of films are made every year. And while some of them are destined for Oscar glory and widespread Metacritic acclaim, others wind up scraping the barrel on the IMDB Bottom 100. What makes these films so universally despised? Are they all really that bad? And, seriously, what’s the deal with From Justin to Kelly? We’ll answer all these questions (and hopefully more) with “Scraping the Barrel,” in which we review the ENTIRETY of the bottom 100, in order.

In today’s installment, Jeremiah Massengale takes a closer look (when he’s able to uncover his eyes) at #94, 1998′s 3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain.

(Editor Note: We realize the Bottom 100 has changed slightly since we began this series. Our master list was frozen on July 17th.)

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The Gist: When a group of mercenaries take over a theme park, it’s up to three prepubescent ninja brothers, their geeky tween neighbor, and a retiring TV star to save the day.

Those Who Shall Be Held Responsible: Written by Sean McNamara and Jeff Phillips, Directed by Sean McNamara.

IMDB Stats: #94, 2.5 rating

The Straight Dirt:

Terrorists take over a theme park and rounds of ammunition are fired at innocent people. The police are unable to protect the precious children trapped inside the park. This sounds like a plot that’s perfect for a children’s movie, right? Come on; of course not. But that’s the set up for 3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain. Sure, 1998 was, arguably, a simpler time in America, but no one in their right mind would green-light such a movie today. (If only no one had decided to green-light it then.)

Premise aside, even if you don’t know anything about this fourth installment of the 3 Ninjas franchise, when you find out that it stars Hulk Hogan, Loni Anderson, and Jim Varney (who starred in every Ernest movie), you know that it’s not going to be a groundbreaking cinematic experience. Yet, somehow, however bad you think it might be…it’s worse.

Hulk Hogan gives a movie its most touching, meaningful performance. Doesn’t that say it all?

For a generation raised on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the original 1992 3 Ninjas film was a dream come true. The Jon Turteltaub movie was the picture-perfect amalgamation of the Turtles’ sarcastic, butt-kicking action and Kevin McAllister’s brand of amusing, quasi-violent mayhem that we loved in Home Alone. I can’t think of a VHS tape I watched more at age nine than the original motion picture that introduced us to Rocky, Colt, and Tum Tum. Even the 1994 sequel was surprisingly watchable. But, by the time Mega Mountain rolled around, the biggest fans of the original, like me, had outgrown the series. Maybe longtime Hogan fans were supposed to watch Hulkmania run wild in this picture, since the Hulkster got top billing. Instead, Mega Mountain killed the 3 Ninjas franchise.

The film opens with the brothers Rocky, Colt, and Tum Tum returning after ninja training with their grandpa (an ancient-looking Victor Wong). Rocky and Colt are ready to abandon the ways of the ninja and put it behind them, thinking they’ll never use their martial arts skills. This makes me wonder — aren’t these the same characters in the previous three films who’ve already used their punches, kicks, and flips to take down hundreds of grown-up ninja warriors and a handful of criminal masterminds? Is this an alternate timeline? What gives?

Only young Tum Tum is still excited about “ninja stuff,” but he’s also excited about celebrating his birthday at Mega Mountain theme park.

Soon, we’re introduced to the leather-clad villainess Medusa (Anderson), her clumsy ninja army, her head henchman Lothar (Varney), and also her trustworthy hacker, who happens to be an extremely stereotypical Jamaican. They’re on a gigantic freight ship that’s headed toward Mega Mountain, which is apparently surrounded by water. After some spastically sparse shots of the bad guys riding jet skis and then scuba diving, Medusa and company enter the theme park. Their big plan? Sneak into Mega Mountain’s control center and hold the park patrons hostage in exchange for a $10 million ransom, even though they seem to have spent a heck of a lot more than that just getting to the park and taking it over.

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Medusa and her gang fail to note that retiring kids TV action hero Dave Dragon (Hogan) happens to be appearing at the park, but then again, why would they? Most aging TV stars wouldn’t a be a threat to terrorists, but then again most aging TV stars aren’t played by WWE Hall of Famer Hulk Hogan. So, when Dave works with Rocky, Colt, Tum Tum, and their techie tween neighbor, Amanda, he makes life difficult for Medusa and her klutzy warriors.

As might be expected, the villain’s hare-brained scheme attracts a legion of police and FBI agents. The ninja kids’ dad, if you recall from earlier films, is an FBI agent, but the law enforcement is quickly rendered powerless.

The whole thing is absurdly contrived and audaciously illogical even for a late ‘90s live action children’s flick. Long after Medusa’s goons fire automatic weapons, we see countless guests continue to stroll leisurely about the park and line up for the rides. No one but the trio of ninja brothers seems to know that the park is in danger? No one heard the rampant gunfire or noticed that the entrance to the park was closed off by armed guards?

Yes, the bad guys seem to have worse aim than Stormtroopers, worse than Sand People, but even small children that watch the film will be sure to wonder why people are still cheerfully getting on the rides when lunatics are controlling the park.

Then, there’s a series of scenes in which the villains attempt to increase the speed of the rides to “dangerous levels.” Those mind-numbing sequences are followed by a scene where Medusa’s Rastafarian tech guy and the preteen computer genius Amanda try to out type each other for control of the speed of the park’s rides, which is about as much fun to watch as it sounds.

It feels cruel and petty to make fun of the child actors, but let’s just say this collection is less than mediocre. Yet, the abysmal script doesn’t do them any favors.

The writing’s bad, especially for the film’s young stars. Colt, for example, has one of the most awful ponytails in cinema history but manages to make fun of other characters’ hairstyles frequently, saying things like “What’s the matter? Bad hair day?” or “Get a haircut, buzz.” You wait for a rival character to come back with, “You first,” or “Have you looked in a mirror, pal?”, but it never happens.

In the storyline, the amusement-park officials are so idiotic, for instance, that when Medusa dresses as a nun to get past security, they totally believe her, even though in addition to her habit she’s wearing showgirl-thick makeup and is surrounded by half-a-dozen shady-looking dudes. Meanwhile, the highly trained SWAT team can’t manage to get past an electric fence.

And for no reason at all, midway through the film, an annoying kid who teased Colt and Tum Tum gets so scared by Medusa’s goons that he pees his pants. Plus, the brilliant director Sean McNamara (who is currently directing direct to video Baby Geniuses sequels) chooses to give the audience a close up of the kid’s wet jeans. Only there’s no Billy Madison sort of one-liner to follow the incident, just discomfort for everyone involved, onscreen and off-screen.

There are moments that could be enjoyable in Mega Mountain. After all, kids love to see other kids take down stupid adults, and there’s plenty of that to be found. There’s hand-to-hand combat atop roller coasters and amusing dart attacks near the theme park’s carnival games, but even for young viewers, it’s not cartoony enough to be hilarious or realistic enough to be exciting.

Strangely enough, none of the blame should be placed on Hogan or Varney. Yes, Hogan does his hero thing by the movie’s climax, but at one point in the film, he removes his blonde wig, reveals his very bald head, sighs deeply, and looks especially weary and vulnerable. In this fleeting moment, after he’d already talked about feeling timeworn and irrelevant, Hogan causes the film to sort of mean something, but it’s gone quicker than Dave Dragon can adjust his red stretchy pants and run off to save the day.

Varney, who was, if nothing else, over the top in his gaggle of Ernest movies, is surprisingly restrained in his dastardly role. Varney, who was a remarkably underrated talent, proves he’s marvelously adept at playing a villain. Meanwhile, Anderson, covered in tight-fitting black leather and pounds of makeup, strikes all the right poses but lacks any of the bite that a criminal needs, even a cartoony one.

All of the action is accompanied by a bouncy, high-pitched musical theme that wouldn’t be out of place in a nursery but is certainly out of place in a kid-friendly Die Hard knockoff. However, the film still manages to be painfully brash and loud. Every punch, throw or kick (and there are hundreds of them) is punctuated with the same squeaky “Aye-yah!” Every one of them.

3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain is a special kind of awful. In retrospect, it makes 3 Ninjas and 3 Ninjas Kick Back look like The Godfather Part I and II. While it is arguably better than the series’ second sequel, 3 Ninjas Knuckle Up, due to its relative star power, no one will really get a kick out of this fourth installment. Somehow, everyone involved managed to make a very, very bland movie about kids helping Hulk Hogan defeat a group of evil ninjas at a theme park, even though that’s the stuff eight-year-olds’ dreams are made of.

Consensus: You might get a little kick out of the slapsticky Home Alone-type ninja action, but the lousy dialogue, ridiculous premise, and forgettable performances deserved to kill the franchise.

Should be IMDB Score: 3.0

Random Quotes:

“This isn’t one of grandpa’s crazy adventures. This is real life Hard Copy stuff.” – Yeah, Rocky, terrorists take over a theme park and are easily defeated by kids. This is real life, all right.

“The network decided to pull the plug on our show. According to the ratings, most kids don’t believe in heroes anymore.” — Darn you, Nielsen ratings!

“It’s no good! We need a three-prong outlet!”

Grandpa Mori says, “I think it’s time to put old grandpa on the shelf like GI Joe and Buzz Lightyear.” – I think it’s time for Grandpa Mori to take an anti-depressant.

I think Tum Tum says, “Piece of Cake. Speaking of cake, let’s eat,” more than once.

Medusa ties Dave Dragon up and tells him, “Maybe I’ll show you mercy and make you my boy toy.” – Awkward. This is a children’s movie.

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