Friday, March 28, 2014

View In Peace: Steve James & American Ninja 2: The Confrontation

This past Tuesday night consisted of the following:  burgers and fries from Five Guys, whiskey and ginger ale, watching Michael Dudikoff and Steve James in American Ninja 2:  The Confrontation with a buddy as in tuned to the glorious 80's as I am.  American Ninja and The Confrontation were seemingly always on TBS or My 43 as a kid and you can bet your ass I watched them both.  A lot.  Then I picked them up on VHS before some genius finally put them on DVD.  American Ninja 2 finds Army Rangers Joe Armstrong (Dudikoff) and Curtis Jackson (James) investigating a rash of missing Marines on some Bahamas-like island paradise.  Rumors of giants dressed head to toe in black suits prompts the Army to send Armstrong and Jackson as they had already taken down a weapons dealer with a Ninja training facility in part I.  Army VS Marine jokes, bar brawls, Levi jeans tucked into boots, wrist bands, sparky 80's soundtrack with steel drums, karate, genetically modified ninja, bright pastel shorts, Body Glove wetsuits, ninja laddering up rocks and ninja using a sawed off shotgun antics ensue.

Maybe it's because I've seen The Confrontation more times than American Ninja but I always liked it better.  It just moves faster and is a lot of fun.  By now, the story sees Dudikoff and James as buddies and their chemistry onscreen is palpable.  So it's a shock to learn that the two didn't get along overly well over the first two films they were paired up in, Ninja and Avenging Force.  James thinks it has something to do with Michael Dudikoff being a model turned actor thrown into an action role with no prior training.  The fact that James was a stuntman and martial arts enthusiast complete with natural onscreen charisma and a muscular build too boot would probably unnerve many a co-star.  While it was clear that Dudikoff was the star, James had some reservations and demands to be met if he was going to return.  Basically he wanted more action, more humor and at least one scene with a female costar.  All of those criteria were met and added to the fun of the picture.  As Jackson, James gets to mix it up with ninjas on the beach, locals in a bar and more ninjas at the end while armed with an auto shotgun and huge butterfly knives clad in what looked like a leather vest.  James' crazed/macho posturing, eagerness to scrap, dry sense of humor and wooing of a woman at a party give the movie plenty of memorable moments and helps make it more than just a low-budget, throwaway genre flick.

Released just under 2 years after American Ninja, The Confrontation would open on fewer screens to less box office, raking in $4 million on a rumored $350,000 dollar budget compared to the originals $10.4 million on a $1 million production.  James would return to the franchise in American Ninja 3:  Blood Hunt in 1989 before taking control of his own destiny and creating projects for himself.  Sadly, at only 41 years old, Steve James passed away in 1994.  Originally thought to have pancreatic cancer, his family believes that may have not been the case. 

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