3 Ninjas Kick Back

3 Ninjas Kick Back, the new chapter in the children's saga is clearly made with an eye on the international movie market. Set for the most part in Japan and adding a female ninja to the three boys, this high-spirited adventure succeeds in conveying the positive and fun elements of both Japanese and American cultures. As a sequel, the picture may not be as bonanza as 3 Ninjas, the l992 Disney sleeper hit, but TriStar should expect strong response from children of all ages.

The new adventure keeps its three cute ninjas, Rocky (Sean Fox), Colt (Max Elliott Slade), and Tum Tum (Evan Bonifant), engaged in not one but two missions. Resourceful siblings have to help Grandpa Mori (Victor Wong) return to Japan to present a ceremonial dagger he had won half a century ago to the new winner of the Ninja tournament. And they have to return to L.A. on time to aid their baseball team, the Dragons, win their rivals, the Mustangs.

In pursuit of the dagger, which is a key to a secret gold cave, Grandpa's old enemy Koga (Sab Shimono) recruits a trio of spaced-out heavy metal rockers. Broadly played by Nguyen, Tiffe and Schombing, with each sporting outrageous wig and costume, they are more bumbling buffoons than villains or accomplices in crime. The trio also provides the context for some hilarious fights and inventive physical comedy.

To broaden the story's appeal, scripter Mark Saltzman shrewdly adds a young girl, Miyo (Caroline Junko King), who's so skillful in the ninja arts she's able to teach the boys a lesson or two. Miyo also becomes the romantic interest of Colt, the adolescent who begins to experience pangs of the heart.

A new bi-cultural and reconciliatory tone underlies 3 Ninjas Kick Back. In the past, American movies portrayed aggressive competition and hostility towards Japan. This film, however, stresses the similarities of these countries and what kids of both cultures can learn from each other. Staying with Miyo's family, the Americans get a geography lesson, eat Japanese food, improve their skills. Similarly, Miyo experiences firsthand icons of American culture, most notably baseball.

Helmer Kanganis, who has directed a number of serviceable actioners, knows that the crucial factors in such adventures are comic energy and swift tempo. Indeed, excepting a couple of superfluous scenes, like those involving the ninjas' parents, pic benefits from kinetic wit and fast pacing.

Tech credits are most proficient, particularly Faloona's attractive lensing of Japan's Nagoya, Kanazawa, and Hikone and Takatsu and Martin's colorful production design.

Like The Wizard of Oz, The Secret Garden and other classic fairy tales, 3 Ninjas offer young viewers a flavor of a new and “dangerous” magical world with a healthy dosage of traditional family values, such as security of country and comfort of home.