Published January 1, 1997
Beverly Hills Ninja by Dennis Dugan tries yet again to make Chris Farley’s brand of physical comedy, which consists of smashing into things and roaring, funny—but with no more success than Black Sheep or Tommy Boy. Artistic, or comedic, success I mean. At the box office it is boffo. For some reason, Americans in the nineties are suckers for the Dumb and Dumber formula, and yet another film seems to have made money by pandering to that strange craving.
You could also see the film, however, as a paean to the self-esteem movement. Mr Farley plays Haru, the supposed Great White Ninja, who naturally turns out to be hopelessly inept at ninjadom. Great white sumo wrestler would be more like it, but there is no reference to his obvious place in Japanese society. “He has made every mistake in the Ninja book,” complains his “brother,” Gobei (Robin Shou), but the Sensei (Soon-Tek Oh) reproves him for noticing this. When Haru comes to him on the astral plane where the Ninjas meet, he says: “Sensei, I tried everything, but I have failed.”
“That is never true,” says the Sensei—and of course for him it never is, since failure is not possible. Thus we are asked to believe that a high level of skill and training can be obtained by refraining from correcting failure. At the end, after the usual kind of idiot’s luck saves Haru, Gobei, the little bellboy Joe (Chris Rock) and the beautiful damsel in distress, Alison (Nicolette Sheridan), from the evil, British accented counterfeiter, Martin Tanley (Nathaniel Parker), Haru says to the Sensei: “Whether I am or am not the Great White Ninja, Sensei, you taught me to believe in myself.”
Well, what do you expect from this overgrown kid stuff? As Haru is leaving the dojo, he tells the Sensei: “There is no better father a boy could have had.” Also, his “Ninja intuition” about the beauteous Miss Sheridan proves correct in the end, even though the wise old Sensei has told him that “you are being led around by your short sword.” When, at this point, Haru says that “My Ninja intuition tells me” that the girl is sincere, the Sensei replies: “You do not have Ninja intuition; you do not even have normal intuition.” But he is wrong. Clumsy, uncoordinated, untrained, undisciplined morons are not only lucky, but also perspicacious. After decades of dumbing down, that is what we just love to believe.