Friday 21 January 2011

Obscurity Files #37 - Beverly Hills Ninja

As Grown Ups is out now on DVD and Blu-Ray, it gave me an excuse to watch this lost 90's Chris Farley "classic".
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Raised since childhood by a Ninja fraternity, Haru (Chris Farley) has long desired to become a respected Ninja like his adoptive brother Gobei (Robin Shou). When a glamourous young woman (Nicollette Sheridan) turns up looking for help back home in Beverly Hills, Haru is eager to offer assistance and prove his worth to the other Ninjas. If you've seen Kung Fu Panda, you've pretty much already seen this film. 

Beverly Hills Ninja shows all of the ropey chop-sockey action you'd expect from an American martial arts comedy, and proves that the rotund Farley was not only a very gifted physical comedian, but also had a complete disregard for the welfare of his body. Being a portly gent this was what had made his name on Saturday Night Live, but in this film he really pushes it to a new level.

Whilst the premise of the film may be paper thin, Farley used every opportunity he had in Beverly Hills Ninja to showcase his physical comedy. Take the scene where Haru goes undercover as a Hibachi chef, for example. There's not really any important dialogue in the scene, and it's of no real importance to the story, but put Farley in front of a hot surface and funny things are bound to happen. As you'd expect from a film where a big fat white guy plays a Ninja, it walks the fine line between parody and racial stereotyping...and then decides to just cross it.

In 1997 Farley was just coming into his own as a movie star, having backed up the brief appearances he'd had in Wayne's World, Coneheads and Billy Madison with co-lead roles in Tommy Boy and Black Sheep in the successful double act he'd created with David Spade. Like most of the Saturday Night Live comedians, Farley's film roles were often associated with other SNL stars (strength in numbers perhaps?), but apart from a minor role by Chris Rock, in Beverly Hills Ninja he got to chance to take centre stage by himself.

It is a shame that Farley's life and career was cut short so early, and if he had learnt to deal with his personal demons he could easily have been a continued screen presence, probably in the ample space that's being occupied by Kevin James right now. He's clearly a funny guy with a lot of pent up rage, and you can see why he was chosen as the original voice of Shrek (Mike Myers took over the role after Chris Farley passed away).

Beverly Hills Ninja was Farley's second to last film (the Christopher Guest comedy Almost Heroes that saw him return to a double act formula with Matthew Perry, was released after his death) and although it's far from a comedy classic, it has its moments of slapstick appeal. Apparently Farley hated the final result, but I'm not sure why. Yes, it's never going to win any awards for an original story, but it showcases all of the physical comedy that he'd become known for on Saturday Night Live.

If you're a fan of Chris Farley's brand of idiotic but good natured humour, you've got a limited supply of films to choose from, and despite having its moments of broad comedy appeal, this film is just not as good as the darker toned Tommy Boy and Black Sheep. The film does suffer from the absence of David Spade, who was always able to balance out Farley's wackiness with some brilliantly snarky remarks. There might be an abundance of the 'fat man falls down, make funny' gags, but without Spade's pithy put downs that make you root for Farley, Beverly Hills Ninja just seems to be missing something.

But, having said that...

Save from obscurity? YES

1 comment:

  1. What about the soundtrack??
    The fact they played Kung Fu Fighting within 5 minutes of the start of the film and at least another 2 times!
    And Turning Japanese!