Written by Fido
Alright, you go into these low / micro / no budget movies knowing that you’re not getting a sweeping epic filled with glitz, glamour and completely solid filmmaking. I don’t remember ever watching a virtually homemade campy movie like this disappointed in the production quality. All that being a given, I still really didn’t like this thing.
I know from personal experience that if you don’t have control over effects, money to get great locations, tons of on-site production value or a director that really has serious chops you have control over three things – story, script and acting.
And what takes any fun out of the movie that Ninjas vs. Zombies is exactly all three of those things.
I got the feeling watching this that it was a bunch of friends sitting around getting seriously baked and throwing out movie ideas. Then the guy with his mouth half full of Ritz crackers and the unidentified leftover dip in the fridge pipes up with, “Ninjas, man they’re cool. And zombies – sweet!” After the murmur of Seth Rogen-inspired laughs fade into memory one of the guys took a pen up and half-assed his way to combining the two into a story.
One big problem I had with this thing was who was the hero. There was the usual cast of slackers you’re supposed to side with, but in the end there should’ve been a focus, someone I cared about a little more than the rest. At different points in the movie I’d sit back and think that this is the guy I’m supposed to follow, only to be shown in another scene that maybe this other guy’s the focus.
That’s a giant problem in a story – not having a clear-cut hero. The villain, while being milquetoast and bland for the amount of Final Cut Pro effects granted to him, was easy to know. Likewise the hero should’ve been equally obvious.
Another massive catch in the film – there’s no ending. What should be the ending is pretty much stepped on and treated as more of an aside than a resolution. In a desperate bid to set up a sequel they forgot to actually finish the first one. That’s one big, stinkin’ “whoops” there.
Also, when you’re pressed for time and money, I highly suggest you don’t throw away character-building time in favor of pointless terrible fight scenes.
Another thing, the guys in the movie really aren’t ninjas per se, they’re a bunch of guys who have inexplicable fighting skills (which if explained properly could be funny, but that doesn’t happen here). Eventually they dress up as a ninja-esque / Matrix bunch of guys and decide to go beat up the far too clean bad guy. So the jump to ninjas is pretty much pointless. I’d rather have seen them maintain their own personas and fought zombies off as a group of slackers with no discernable skills but zombie fighting.
So at the heart of it, the story is pretty cobbled together, which on the surface you’re probably thinking it’s expected. But even in the grimiest of grindhouse movies, the ones with solid story structure usurp their financial limitations. At one point even saying in the script (when asked why ninjas had to be there), “…because I felt like it”. Well unfortunately for us and the movie, throwing something in a script because you felt like it usually comes across like something you, um, well – threw into a script because you felt like it.
Before I get further into this, right off the bat there is way too many “see we love geeky movies too” direct quotes thrown at you. All the points are hit like Ghostbusters, Star Wars, etc.. It’s way too easy to see coming, and after the fifth quote within the first 30 minutes, incredibly annoying. It kind of gave the impression that there were gaps evident in the script so they jammed in quotes because it gave someone an extra line or two.
On top of that there are several points where the script just feels amazingly uninspired. For a movie where creativity should be at a premium (due to budget and the absurd subject matter), the script ran through every motion you’d expect without one single deviation or unexpected turn anywhere.
That bummed me out. I go into these kinds of movies wanting them to use the wackiness to their advantage, to really push the boundaries a bit, but the pedestrian lines in a nutty subject felt like the ol’ "hot dog in a train tunnel" effect. A whole lot of room to play around in yet, these guys just clung to the wall hoping to make it to the other side without taking a chance.
Even if the script went through a much-needed three or four more drafts, performances like they got from a number of their actors would’ve neutered it anyway.
Look, I’m well aware a lot of talent in these kinds of movies isn’t top notch, but a group of the people in this was as wooden as can be. Though not quite George Lucas-directed wooden, they were stiff nonetheless. There was a mess of people obviously watching others’ mouths and waiting for their line rather than treating scenes like a conversation or naturally.
If the whole thing was this way then maybe you could overlook it, but there are a couple points where a guy here and there would actually be in the flow of the moment. It felt comfortable (and even fun) to watch them get into it. I thought the film was going to gain some momentum. Maybe the oddly stilted / paced scenes that make up the first 1/3 of the movie would be a cute anomaly to reflect on after all. That didn’t happen.
Whatever pace the actors got into was immediately cut off at the knees by returning to the same passionless (and above all joyless) spurts from before. Really, the timing of everyone in the movie is all over the place. That timing had me laughing at the wrong spots and making the “eek” face when I should be into the characters.
If there was one bright spot (and it was sporadic at best), it was Daniel Ross as “Kyle”, the wisenheimer of the bunch. He was the sole character and actor with any semblance of personality at any point in his performance. Now it wasn’t some tour de force, but when he hit his pace, he hit it well. Too bad it was flanked with performances by Cory and Carla Okouchi (Cole and Lily). I suppose P.J. Megaw, with some more personality thrown into his acting would’ve felt better suited as the heavy, but all in all he was far too clean cut and stereotypical to be all that entertaining.
Like I said, the effects are the effects. It’s admirable pulling out as much as you can with as little money as they had. But when you interrupt what should be a self-actualization kind of story with three or four five-minute fight scenes that rival closed-eye whiffing slap fights in a schoolyard, it makes everything tedious and unforgivable. What is normally glossed over with a “hey they did their best” attitude becomes a “man, I wish they’d stop” real quick-like.
In the end, there’s one giant positive in this. These guys worked their tails off and put themselves on the line for something they believed in. Though this won’t be the opus that may eventually get all or one of these guys into big time movie making, it’s a good first step.
As far as extras on the DVD – two trailers – no big whoop. One little note (aside from the others above), if you’re going to do an actual release of an independent film that is supposed to be somewhat funny, put some special features on your disc that show what a great time you had making the film. Without even a simple gag reel attached it makes me think that maybe making the movie was as teeth grinding as it was to watch most of it. Humanize yourselves more, guys. Make the audience feel connected to you as regular Joes. Seems stupid but putting a little behind-the-scenes thing and the aforementioned gag reel together may have made me look at the movie with a little more forgiveness – maybe.
There are flaws like all movies of this ilk, but you have to acknowledge the time, money, work and balls they all had to go out and do it. A lot of people sit on the sidelines saying they could do, without doing it, but they took the chance. For better or worse, I love that. Sure, there’s not a chance I’ll ever watch it again (and I suggest you don’t unless you’re in a very forgiving mood), but it represents a lot of effort on their part and that’s always to be respected.
Article first published as DVD Review: Ninjas Vs. Zombies on Blogcritics.