The Oberlin Review

‘Rotten’ Flick Features Last Farley Appearance

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Nate Levinson

Columnist

This column is the first in a series that will review movies that receive the dubious distinction of an under-20 percent rating on the Tomatometer on rottentomatoes.com: the movies we love that the critics didn’t.

This week I turn my attention to Beverly Hills Ninja, a 1997 comedy starring Chris Farley and Nicollette Sheridan with a 14 percent “rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Movie critic Pete Vonder Haar hated the movie so much that he wrote, “Maybe Death did Chris Farley a favor by sparing him from making more shit like this.” I definitely wouldn’t go as far as Vonder Haar, as I find it hard to believe anyone who signed up to watch a movie about a fat, idiotic ninja in Beverly Hills was expecting anything Oscar-worthy. In any case, I took it upon myself to determine if Beverly Hills Ninja is hilariously bad or just unwatchable.

Farley plays Haru, a stumbling and fumbling aspiring ninja tasked with helping Sally Jones, a mysterious and beautiful blonde from Beverly Hills played by Sheridan, get to the bottom of an international counterfeit scheme.

The movie relies on every ninja stereotype imaginable as Haru, determined to prove that he is “The Great White Ninja,” travels from Japan to “the hills of Beverly,” and hilarity ensues. Aided by a more accomplished ninja, Farley works to crack open the case and woo his damsel in distress. It’s worth mentioning that the film does seem questionable racially.

The acting is anything but first-rate, but it doesn’t have to be. For the most part, the gags work and if you appreciate Farley’s high-energy form of comedy, the movie definitely has its fair share of laugh-out-loud moments.

Funnyman Chris Rock even makes an appearance as Farley’s novice sidekick, one of Rock’s earlier roles. Director Dennis Dugan would have been wise to better capitalize on Rock’s obvious comedic talent, as he’s quite effective in the film. Still, his scenes are gold and reason enough to see the movie.

It’s easy to see why the film (and I use the term “film” loosely) received such negative reviews; it is decidedly short of any kind of sensible plot structure, and if you don’t like Farley, then there’s no way you would enjoy this movie. The jokes are corny and always stupid, and the action scenes are downright bad.

I must admit that, despite my appreciation for Farley’s work, I was a little disappointed with Beverly Hills Ninja. The movie piqued my interest when I was younger, but it failed to live up to even my low expectations during a second viewing. A lot of the jokes fall short, and I can’t help but think they could have done a little more with what they had to work with. Chris Farley as a ninja is a pretty stupid concept, but it’s funny enough. Instead, Farley’s and Rock’s talent often goes to waste thanks to a bad script and poor directing.

Amazingly, Beverly Hills Ninja is practically the highlight of Dugan’s questionable directing career. Apparently devoid of any artistic talent whatsoever, he is responsible for poisoning the minds of viewers with horrors like Grown Ups 2 (7 percent), Jack & Jill (3 percent), The Benchwarmers (11 percent) and, my personal favorite, Saving Silverman (18 percent). Dugan may be a rich man, but he’s an awful director.

As for Farley, his best work undoubtedly came as a member of Saturday Night Live. His roles as Matt Foley and as one of Bill Swerski’s Superfans (see: “Da Bears”) are still fan favorites. Sadly, the movie was the last release of Farley’s short life, as he died of a drug overdose at the age of 33, just over 11 months after the film’s release.

Obvious criticisms aside, I couldn’t help but enjoy Beverly Hills Ninja. Call me sentimental, but I love the late ’90s aesthetic of the movie, and seeing Farley and Rock work in their prime is fun to watch. Beverly Hills Ninja may be rotten, but come on, it sure beats the hell out of Grown Ups 2.

Krislov’s Top Picks

For those looking to make their own jump into the world of under-20 percenters, President Marvin Krislov has a few recommendations. Citing his love for Julia Roberts, he counts Valentine’s Day (18 percent) as a personal favorite. The Hangover Part III (19 percent) also made his list, as he loves “anything with Ed.”

 

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