“Justice by Day. Payback by Night.”
Directed by Clayton Pierce
Starring Clayton Pierce, Carla Brothers, Nicky DeMatteo, Yuki Matsuzaki, Heather Hunter
Matt Murdock Malik Ali (Pierce) defends the worst scum in the city of Philadelphia by day — but by night, as the mysterious Black Ninja, he hunts them down and delivers the punishment the courts won’t provide. Undertaking the task of protecting a witness in a mob trial (Brothers), Ali finds himself falling for her — and when the mob boss (DeMatteo) hires the assassin who killed Ali’s family (Matsuzaki) to abduct her, he must confront blah blah blah blah.
What’s wrong with it?
The Black Ninja was paid for mainly out of writer/director/star Pierce’s own pocket and filmed in two weeks — and it looks like it. The cinematography and lighting are either bland or incompetent, the plot is derivative, the sound is awful (it’s frequently hard to hear what people are saying), the dialogue is trite, the political theme is sophomoric and there are some directorial choices … well, we’ll come to those in a minute.
What’s right with it?
Pierce and Brothers aren’t bad actors. Everyone else, with one notable exception, isn’t great, but only a few of them are terrible. Many are obviously not really actors. And Matsuzaki as the rival Red Ninja is hilarious. Possibly even intentionally.
How bad is it really?
It’s atrocious. If it were capably made, it would be a tiresome, clumsy, derivative blaxploitation martial arts movie with some deeply weird and offensive choices. As it is, it’s all that, plus so crappy in its execution that it’s hard to watch.
Also, the fights are almost uniformly terrible — and when they do get in someone who knows some martial arts, the only real effect is to highlight Pierce’s lack of fight choreography.
And the soundtrack is diabolical. There are a lot of songs — including a theme song where Pierce raps — and they’re often introduced at completely inappropriate moments, including smoove R&B during the hero’s big slo-mo-NOOOOO moment.
Anyway, see for yourself:
Best bit (if such there is)?
OK, this isn’t good but it’s a sufficiently bold choice that it has to be in here. The Black Ninja corners the mob boss in his home while he’s taking a dump and paralyses him with acupuncture needles so that he’ll never move again. But he’s in the middle of taking a crap, so while Pierce delivers this hard-ass monologue about how now he’s in prison in his own body, the SFX play a series of farting, squelching, splashing poop-sounds. It sounds ridiculous, and it completely undercuts the scene, but at least it’s a decision.
Oh, also, when Black Ninja is talking to a guy in Tagalog, his Tagalog is really halting and awkward, which makes sense — but sounds ridiculous.
What’s up with…?
- The series of mid-film fights where Ali fights a bunch of random hoodlums? They do absolutely nothing to add to the story, and the characters are never seen again.
- Ali’s outfits? It’s 2003, but he looks like he was just in a Boyz II Men video. I guess he is from Philadelphia.
- The slow-motion three-peat of about half the punches and kicks in the movie? I don’t mean especially exciting ones. There aren’t really any of those.
- 90s porn star Heather Hunter’s cameo as Ali’s dead wife? I mean, nothing wrong with moving into the legitimate thyutuh, but she has like two lines.
- The Red Ninja (Matsuzaki)? He’s so charmingly over the top, but it’s really weird in a movie that is 90% pretty restrained in its performances. At one point he just gives someone the maniac stare-grin and holds it for about 30 seconds.
- Black Ninja’s investigative technique? At one point, he says he’s going to “check out the Johnson Street area.” Apparently, this is the Stickup District, because we cut to him beating up like four gangs of crooks in awkwardly staged fights.
- The Black Ninja training montage, in which he does some situps, pedals furiously on an exercise bicycle, and does some curls with the kind of weights I have in my cupboard? I mean, Pierce looks like he’s in good shape, but it’s hardly Rambo stuff.
Production values: this looks like the movies my brother and I used to make with our mum’s video camera – 18
Dialogue and performances: acting students and people they just met – 12
Plot and execution: a million Punisher comics and an entire bottle of NyQuil – 16
Randomness: doing OK until the poop scene – 16
Waste of potential: the blaxploitation vigilante flick is a proud tradition – 14