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‘Surf Ninjas’ (PG)

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 21, 1993

"Surf Ninjas" packs as many punch lines as it does punches -- it's a harmless summer's entertainment for the young crowd that adored the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" films and "3 Ninjas." This martial arts comedy tells the suitably preposterous story of a couple of California dudes who turn out to be the long-lost crown princes of a South China Sea island kingdom, which they must reclaim by leading a popular uprising, which they do through a surfboard blitzkrieg.

Johnny (Ernie Reyes Jr.) and Adam (the overly cute Nicolas Cowan) are beach brothers who fake their way through school and try to get out of any responsibilities, preferring motion slickness, whether it be skateboarding, surfing or motor-surfing. As Johnny approaches his 16th birthday, Ninjas start stalking him at his adoptive father's house, trying to deny a prophecy in which he returns to Patu San -- yes, it rhymes with Porto-San -- and overthrows its evil dictator, Col. Chi (Leslie Nielsen, reduced to rent-a-comic-cameo status). Johnny and Adam remain oblivious to the protection of an eye-patched warrior who materializes whenever they are in danger and eventually tells them about their heritage, their legacy and the job at hand.

The boys are skeptical but eventually they head for Patu San, accompanied by "Saturday Night Live's" Rob Schneider as the boys' fast-talking pal, raspy rapper Tone Loc as a helpful detective and Miss Teen USA Kelly Hu as Ro-May, who is scheduled to be Johnny's Queen. Together, this crew leads the revolution and brings democracy to the island -- before heading back for those more familiar California beaches and babes!

Moving from zero to hero, Reyes makes a good impression after being covered by a shell and mask as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Donatello (he also starred in television's "Sidekicks"). Out of costume, Reyes sounds pretty much the same, but he proves a genial beach buddy and an effective fighter -- hardly surprising since he's a third-degree black belt and his father is a three-time national taekwando champion. The fights, of course, are not much different from the Turtle battles: lots of action and comic relief but no pain.

As Col. Chi, Nielsen seems to sleepwalk through still another sendup role, even resorting to a piece of "Dr. Strangelove" shtick that's likely to be lost on the film's target audience. Still, there's nothing as irritating or disturbing in "Surf Ninjas" as in any one minute of "Beavis and Butthead." Director Neal Israel ("Bachelor Party," "Moving Violations") has served up an inoffensive slice of summertime fun.

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