For the first few minutes of Beverly Hills Ninja, it looks as if Chris Farley may have finally found a movie to match the size of his talents. As an orphan raised in Japan by martial-arts masters, Farley displays a hippo-ballet grace while bonking himself on the head with various instruments of death. This chop-shtick generates a few belly-laugh-inducing quips (”Sensei is going to kill me!” Farley panics after smashing a shelfful of ancient artifacts). But as soon as the action switches to L.A., a yawner plot about Farley busting up a yen-counterfeiting ring kicks in — and slowly starts to squeeze the life out of the movie.
Ninja casts about for whale-out-of-water humor as Farley’s long-sheltered Haru grapples with such newfangled inventions as metal detectors and seat belts. But when the writers run out of ideas, they simply have Farley walk into a lamppost, or cop from old SNL skits: In one gratuitous scene, Farley reprises his flesh-dancing strip routine. (Can we please have a ban on the use of ”I’m Too Sexy” in movies?) In another painful bit, he dresses up as a Japanese chef in a pale riff on John Belushi’s samurai that’s the most offensive Asian caricature since Mickey Rooney’s bucktoothed Breakfast at Tiffany‘s neighbor.
Amazingly enough, that’s not even the most egregious racial stereotype in Ninja, a dubious distinction that goes to Farley’s fellow ex-SNLer Chris Rock. As a lazy bellhop, Rock bugs out his eyes and blurts out his lines like a latter-day Stepin Fetchit. Nicollette Sheridan also shows up, as Farley’s love interest; mostly she just stands around in tight outfits, much like she did in last summer’s awful Spy Hard.
Director Dennis Dugan has done fine TV work (NYPD Blue, Chicago Hope), but with 1996’s Adam Sandler stinker Happy Gilmore and this sad affair, he seems stuck in a lamebrained SNL rut. Somebody stop this guy before he makes Goat Boy: The Movie.