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‘3 Ninjas’ (PG)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 07, 1992

My video-age kids usually help me out on these things, but they weren't around for "3 Ninjas." Their standards of excellence are extremely generous. Anything that has ever been made for film or video is implicitly "good." But under this vast rubric, there are two sub-delineations:

• "Awesome," which means there's a chance it's watchable.

• "OK," which means the film's over their heads (extremely unlikely) or that it drinks bilge water.

My guess is they'd give "Ninjas" -- a yarn about three kung-fu tykes -- the OK. Which, of course, is not OK. Even in this conglomerate era of marketed, predigested mediocrity, this Disney movie (preceded by a dull cartoon short called "Petal to the Metal") slips instantly into the humdrum.

While FBI-agent father Alan McRae is away on crime-busting business, three brothers (who are impossibly nice to each other) spend their summers learning martial arts from Asian grandfather Victor Wong. He bestows ninja names on his fledglings: Michael Treanor, 12, is called Rocky because he's solid; Max Elliott Slade, 11, is Colt because he has the spirit of a wild horse; 7-year-old Chad Power is Tum Tum because he eats so much candy.

When McRae harasses arms-dealing kingpin Rand Kingsley, the bad guy decides to even the score. A former disciple of Wong's, he comes to bully the old man and apprehend the kids. Good thing they've been training for this! It's time to demonstrate all those kicks, blocks and practical jokes their mentor taught them.

It takes a young mind to believe these squirts can defeat an entire squad of crack ninjas -- which they do. It takes virtual myopia not to see that doddering Wong's somersaults and flying kicks are being performed by a double with a padded stomach. After the kids defeat his men, Kingsley inexplicably sends three surfer-lingo dudes to capture them. The dastardly Bill & Tedders are doomed to suffer everything from jelly beans on the floor to ultra-laxative Mickey Finns. "Don't you just hate us?" pipes Tum Tum, after the dudes have suffered yet another booby-trap indignity. Yes, little Tum Tum, yes.

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