You don't go into a movie called Ninja Assassin expecting a hell of a lot, but this shockingly disjointed and relentlessly dull picture can't even deliver the martial-arts kick its title so plainly promises. The latest misfire in the ongoing career meltdown of The Matrix creators Larry and Andy Wachowski, who produced the film for their V For Vendetta director James McTeigue, Ninja Assassin is awash in computer-generated blood, redundant flashbacks (the movie may set a new record) and bad lighting that renders several of the fight scenes literally impossible to follow.
Even the well-lit showdowns between the titular hero Raizo (played by Korean pop star Rain) and the clan of evil ninjas-for-hire known as the Ozunu who raised him and are now trying to kill him, aren't all that exciting. Rain is a singer and dancer and obviously not a martial artist, so the plentiful swordfights and blade-and-chain duels and kung-fu standoffs all feel overly staged and choreographed in a way the fights in Bruce Lee movies - or even in Kill Bill - never did.
The Ninja Assassin screenplay was originally penned by Matthew Sand and, at the request of the Wachowskis, rewritten by Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski in a hasty 53 hours, which helps to explain why the movie borders on the incomprehensible. The plot, which includes a Europol agent (Naomie Harris) out to investigate the Ozunu, is so thin and schlocky the script feels as if it had been tossed off in . . . well, 53 hours.
Most inexcusable: even the gore is terrible. I understand why filmmakers gravitate toward computer-generated imagery when dealing with creatures and monsters. But why are so many directors now starting to use CGI blood? Is it just too much to ask to slop around some karo syrup on the set? Too much work to wipe up between takes?
The violence in Ninja Assassin feels as fake as the kung-fu, a fitting condition for a movie in which nothing feels real, and nothing is ever at stake - except, perhaps, for the viewer's wakefulness. Do not, under any circumstances, watch Ninja Assassin while operating heavy machinery.