Written and Directed by: Justin Timpane
Starring: Dan Guy, P.J. Megaw, Cory Oouchi, Daniel Ross, and Daniel Mascarello
Reviewed by: Brett G.
"So.. um.. time to die?"
"Can I have breakfast first?"
"Can I have breakfast first?"
What happens when an ambitious film-maker spends an afternoon in his local Blockbuster in search of "the film they haven't made yet?" That is exactly what writer/director Justin Timpane did one afternoon, and, apparently, the result is one of the more bizarre mash-ups in horror history: Ninjas vs. Zombies. That's right, folks, martial arts mayhem meets the decaying undead in one of the craziest independent horror romps you're ever likely to come across. According to Endlight Entertainment, the basic premise of the film is "it's ninjas vs. freaking zombies--why wouldn't you want to watch this movie?". With that kind of argument, how can I resist?
Randall, the owner and operator of a comic book store, has recently lost his brother, Eric, to an untimely death; fortunately, Randall just happens to dabble in the black arts and summons him from beyond the grave. Eric returns not as a decaying, mindless zombie, but instead returns quite cognizant and with the ability to steal the souls of the living (which consequentially renders his victims undead). Obviously, this becomes a bit of an inconvenience for Randall and his circle of friends; thus, he must again refer to his book of black arts, which inexplicably takes the form of a little girl and offers one outlandish solution: each of his friends (Kyle, Cole, and Fitz) must be granted with the ability to become ninjas to rid the world of Eric's undead horde.
As a kid, one of my favorite genre loves after horror was martial-arts films. In between repeated viewings of slashers, I'd always find time for Kickboxer, Bloodsport, or Best of the Best. To have a film represent a marriage of both the horror and martial arts genres is exceedingly rare so I was more than a little interested in Ninjas vs. Zombies. Of course, I had my doubts going in about this one because such an outlandish premise just lends itself to outright stupidity; however, the film does deliver on the level of pure entertainment, and it's geeky heart is in just the right place for me. In the promo material accompanying the film, Endlight details the influence of cult film-makers like Kevin Smith and Joss Whedon, who also happen to be two of my favorite film-makers working today.
This influence is evident throughout the film, especially in the rapid-fire, reference-filled dialogue between the characters (heck, there's actually a line lifted directly from Chasing Amy itself), and it's a lot of fun to listen to. This also speaks to the fact that the film succeeds the most at creating good characters that are at the heart of the film. Without the characterization, I think a lot would be lost with this film because I ended up truly caring about this group of characters, most of which are stuck in the general malaise of twentysomething life. Besides the eminent threat of the undead, they've got your everyday work and romance problems as well. I found both Kyle and Cole to be especially effective characters, as the romance between the latter and Lily (who happened to be Eric's main squeeze before he died) is a strong subplot that really brings a bit of weight to the film. The film almost feels more like a character drama at times, and it mostly succeeds on this level, which is surprising given the film's outlandish premise.
Surprisingly, this premise is where the film falters the most, as the horror and action elements are lacking a bit. Of course, when it comes to a film entitled Ninjas vs. Zombies, you don't expect a hardcore horror film; however, I was expecting a bit more of a splatterfest. Instead, the actual sequences between the title characters are a bit mundane and rely on a copious amount of decapitations as far as gore goes. These sequences are fun for a while, but they ultimately grow a bit tiresome. The film's climax similarly grows a bit wearisome, particularly when a couple of the characters are reduced to simply fighting off an endless horde using machine guns. Surprisingly, there are also a couple of fight sequences that don't involve zombies, and these are well done. I mean, it's not exactly like watching Sonny Chiba or Van Damme, but they were a nice surprise.
Overall, Ninjas vs. Zombies is a pretty well done film. The production values are quite nice for an independent feature, though some of the more elaborate CGI effects seem a bit cheesy. The good characters are brought to life with some pretty decent acting (though some of the cast are better than others, for sure). I was surprised to discover that this is Timpane's first venture as a feature-film director, as the film is put together well. It still feels amateurish at times, but that's to be expected given the low-budget roots. All in all, I found Ninjas vs. Zombies to be an enjoyable effort. As someone who has similarly searched the direct-to-video bowels of his local Blockbuster, I can safely say that this is better than a lot of those efforts. It would appear that Endlight is still searching for a distributor for the film so it might be a while before it actually graces the shelves at your local rental store (for more info about the film, check out Endlight's website). I'm not convinced that Endlight fully succeeded in creating a movie that's "elevated beyond that impulse rental to the 'you have to see this' status," as the novelty surrounding the premise does wear off rather quickly. Still, beneath it, you've got a pretty solid foundation that certainly warrants giving this one a look. Rent it!
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