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American Ninja 4: The Annihilation (1990)
Tonight's Feature Presentation


Starring: Michael Dudikoff, David Bradley, James Booth, Robin Stille, Dwayne Alexandre

Written By: Avi Kleinberger, Gideon Amir, David Geeves Directed By: Cedric Sundstrom

The Short Version

“American Ninjas” Dudikoff and Bradley: together in one film!  Kinda.

But no Steve James.  And no fun.

The race card rears its ugly head in blatant fashion.  Not cool.

Slow, boring, aimless, and bloodless.  Call those words the “American Ninja Four.”

American Ninja 4: The Annihilation is an easily skipped waste of time.

The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


Or, as the rest of the world calls it, “wax.”

Pairs Well With...


Cheap beer for when you absolutely, positively do not give a damn.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this, Sean.”

“It’s not over yet.”

How dare this lousy excuse for a script lift lines from Star Wars.

Yeah; this is gonna be one of those reviews.

Calling this movie American Ninja 4: The Annihilation is a flat-out lie; nothing is getting annihilated here except an hour and half and change that the audience is never going to get back.  American Ninja 4: The Abomination, on the other hand…   Now that’s something worth getting behind.

The original American Ninja was no one’s idea of an Oscar contender, but it was fun to watch, the action was decent, and its newly minted hero – Michael Dudikoff – had an odd charisma about him.  (The more traditional charisma and talent of his costar, Steve James, also helped a lot.)  American Ninja 2 was ridiculous, but the fun was still there, Dudikoff was a bit more sure on his legs, Steve James still rocked the house, and hey, lest we forget, there was also the Synchronized Ninja Dance. 

Overall, a solid start for an action franchise of the era.

Then American Ninja 3 rolled around, and the franchise hit a snag.  Dudikoff was gone, and instead of promoting his obviously capable (and dark skinned) partner from the previous two flicks to be the next American Ninja, the studio elected to bring in a far less charismatic (and light skinned) star with no ties at all to the previous flicks, David Bradley.  The new guy was hardly inspiring, the story was lousy, stuff was lifted from the previous flick wholesale, and still-sidekickin’ Steve James looked pissed. 

Overall, a potential franchise killer.  Cannon Films, already in trouble to the point of being sold off and placed under new management, could ill afford to make another stinker bearing the American Ninja name.

Alas, they made American Ninja 4 anyway.

Where did they go wrong with it?  Let’s start counting the ways…

The Meandering Story.  In the cheap-n-cheesy alleyways of the chop socky genre, the best approach is often the most direct one.  American Ninja 4: The Annihilation doesn’t do that.  It starts with a bunch of schlubs – we find out later that they’re supposed to be Delta Force (I like to think that’s a dig on Chuck, but I know it’s not) – being kinda-sorta chased through the bush by a group of ninjas.  (I say "kinda-sorta" because the chase is slow and unexciting.)  Eventually, the ones who aren’t picked off get surrounded and captured.

So, our straightforward plot involves a rescue, right?

It should, but no.  That would have been too simple.  Instead the ninjas work for a British traitor (James Booth, Avenging Force) who works for an Arab terrorist (Ron Smerczak, Cyborg Cop) who has managed to build a suitcase-sized nuclear weapon capable of destroying New York City, despite being holed up in an African backwater which, even though it is suspiciously clean, looks very much like the setting for a “Save the Children” ad.  The Delta Force was after the bomb, see.

Meanwhile, this African backwater has been somehow subjugated by the British traitor, and the only locals who are not under his thumb are a bunch of Mad Max ex-convicts who turned their former prison into a scrap heap fort after it was shut down – they’d be “the Resistance” if they ever left their ridiculous post-Apocalypse hole, but no – plus one remarkably attractive white woman who is a Peace Corps medic (Robin Stille, Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama) and the obligatory half-washed kid who is “the  local contact” (Jody Abrahams, Safe House).

There is no point whatsoever to the Mad Maxies.  They are only there to waste everyone’s time.  Speaking of…

Heroes, Take One… Hey, Where’s Steve?  Our starting set of heroes are Sean Davidson – the guy from the last movie, played b y David Bradley – and… um…  some guy named Brackston, who was definitely not in the last movie and is absolutely not played by Steve James.  Nope, he’s played by a different black guy who’s a lot scrawnier, who’s not allowed to fight well, and who presents absolutely no danger at all of upstaging any white guy in the movie, especially David Bradley.

First off, Cannon should have done everything possible to apologize to Steve James for treating him like crap in the previous film.  He was the only reason that one was still watchable, and a major factor in the success of the first two.  The loss of Steve James here is huge, and it doesn’t matter which party said “no.”  (I honestly don’ know if James was even asked, or if he told Cannon to shove it.)

But what they do about his completely unnecessary “replacement” (who could also have been easily written out of the film with no real consequences) is a huge slap in the face that only serves to confirm any suspicions of a race card being played.  The “no danger of upstaging” aside, there’s also the gratuitous scene wherein the white man in the white suit, given three targets to pick from, chooses to repeatedly bullwhip the bare back of the chained-up black guy, and him alone.  I think that paints a clear picture.

But don’t worry, there’s also the cartoonish Arab in the telltale headgear who has to mention Allah and Infidels and Unbelievers and his quest to kill the Great Satan that is America every five seconds (and who, of course, tells his chopper pilot to fly him to Mecca), just to show that the stereotypes are equal opportunity.

Okay, fine.  Let’s assume we’re willing to look past the stereotyping because hey, “cheap action movie.”  Doesn’t matter.  Still blows.

We meet our two above-mentioned heroes at the scrawny one’s wedding, which is of course interrupted by pagers going off, because that gag never gets old… except that it does and is stupid.  They’re called in to meet with an official-looking dude who tells them that they need to go rescue the Delta Force from the ninjas and get the Arab guy’s nuke before said Arab guy carries out a threat to burn his remaining captives alive.  (He made this threat, by the way, in front of the apparently crucified bodies of the ones he already killed.)  Sean asks his soon-to-be-married buddy to step outside and then further trashes the guy’s credibility with the audience by compalining that he’s not good enough for the mission.  Boss Man agrees without saying so while also noting that our heroes were his second choice; the first said “no.”

So… off to Africa, meet the cute kid, pick up the attractive woman, and… get captured by the bad guys halfway through the movie, thence to be locked up with the Delta Force as extra kindling.  Thus, despite lots of meandering, we’re right back where we started, plotwise.

Yup; our first heroes and pretty much the whole first half of the movie are a complete waste of time.

Dudikoff, BUT…  The one thing that Cannon does right with American Ninja 4: The Annihilation is secure the return of Michael Dudikoff, whose character of Joe Armstrong – the original American Ninja – apparently ran off to join the Peace Corps after the second movie, which, in hindsight, wasn’t a bad idea.  His sketchy and previously unmentioned connection to David Bradley’s Sean Davidson as “a friend” is more than dubious, but we don’t care.  We’re just glad to see Dudikoff.

He is, of course, that original “first choice” who turned down Uncle Sam, but now that his “pal” is in trouble, he agrees to go to everyone’s rescue and provide the audience with the story it should have gotten in the first place, except that this one still has the silly Mad Maxies and the dumb MacGuffin nuke and even at only half the movie’s runtime it still feels like it goes on too long.  Plus, remember how I mentioned that Steve James delivered the goods in American Ninja 3 but looked pissed about being there most of the time?  Yeah; that’s Dudikoff in this flick, only his version of “pissed” is a bit more low key.

Does he save the film?  Kinda, if one insists on watching it at all, but…

All The Rest.  To call American Ninja 4: The Annihilation a pedestrian effort is too kind, since the term “pedestrian” implies walking instead of crawling.  As noted, the pacing is glacial, and the story meanders and doubles back more often than a drunk who can’t find the men’s room.  The atmosphere is nonexistent; tension, excitement, and fun are things that happen to other films.  The fighting – already bloodless – is ho-hum at best, and even the well-choreographed stuff is rendered lifeless by a camera that doesn’t care.  (Why did they invite the director from the last flick back again?)

Meanwhile, David Bradley presents no more charisma here than he did the last time, and his acting isn’t exactly hitting the “hero” switch.  Michael Dudikoff does better than “showing up,” but his lack of excitement shines through pretty clearly.  The villains are bad cartoons, and the heroes’ allies are, by and large, pointless and out-of-place.   The one bright spot on that score is Robin Stille, who tries in vain to inject a human personality into this catastrophe for the few scenes she has before being reduced to the stereotypical damsel in distress.

When all is said and done, nobody wins… especially the audience.

Bottom line, American Ninja 4: The Annihilation is only remarkable for how far it goes out of its way to be awful.  Even for those who are used to Cannon fare, this one’s especially bad, and not in a fun way.  Casual fans can skip this flick without any reservations, and genre die hards won’t find anything compelling here, either.  This is one those movies you only watch on a bet.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, March, 2014

You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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