Today I watched Neal Isreal’s Surf Ninjas (1993)
Surf ninjas is a prime slice of 90’s cheese that serves as a starring vehicle for Ernie Reyes Sr. and his son. Ernie Reyes Jr. and Nicolas Cowan play Johnny and Adam, two radical brothers in L.A. who discover that they were secretly royalty from the fictional southeast Asian nation of Patusan. They were just struggling along with school and enjoying the sick waves when they get attacked by ninjas and a mysterious one-eyed man, played by Reyes Sr. comes to save them. Now they must leave their lives behind to fight Samurai Leslie Nielsen with the help of a young Rob Schnieder, a video game that tells the future, Asian stereotypes, and a whole lot of surfing.
Sometimes a movie ages in such a way that instead of getting more appreciable or bad with time, it gets really weird, this is one of those movies. Surf Ninjas is more 90’s than the 90’s, replete with silly slang and pandering youth empowerment. There is something admirable about the effortlessness with which this film expresses it’s absurd, only in the 90’s ideas. One of my favorite elements is the blatant product placement of Adam’s handheld video game; not only is it blatant marketing, it also tells the future in the film. Then the film adds on Leslie Nielsen as a pratfalling cyborg samurai villain and we go full 90’s in a very strange way.
Of course as an actual adventure film Surf Ninjas falls flat on it’s face due to much of the aforementioned silliness. Leslie Nielsen may be a very funny guy, but that doesn’t make him a threatening villain in any way. The film sacrifices any sense of danger for it’s humour which, oddly enough, doesn’t seem to be aware of all the absurdity it could be mining for material. Instead the majority of the humour is uninspired shtick and that particular early 90’s brand of slapstick that killed slapstick. Perhaps the humour is supposed to come from Tone Loc’s looks of utter embarrassment.
What this movie has going for it is just how absurd a lot of the 90’s ephemera has become and the Reyes’ who are both competently charismatic. It also has rapper Tone Loc in it for no good reason which is absolutely bizarre. What it has going against it is pretty much everything else. Yet I do not find this film in any way difficult to watch, it is a fascinating window into the culture of another decade that, despite most of us being old enough to remember, is already looking quite alien. So no, this is not a good movie, but I think it should still be considered an important piece of recent cultural history. 2/5