Sunday, September 3, 2017

Ninja Cheerleaders (USA, 2008)

OK, if you're expecting anything along the lines of similarly R-rated and entitled exploiters like Zombie Strippers (2008 / trailer) or Zombeavers (2014 / trailer) — or even the 2002 no budget flick Cheerleader Ninjas  (trailer) or the schlocky PG-rated grindhouse piece o' fluff Satan's Cheerleaders (1977 / trailer) — you're going to in for a surprise. Ninja Cheerleaders, the feature-film directorial debut of David Presley ("1986 Guinness Book of World Record holder for highest score on the video game Timepilot '84"), who also wrote and produced the decidedly thin movie, is neither all that sleazy nor that violent nor in particularly bad taste nor over-the-top funny.
Which is not to say that it doesn't entertain, for it does, but in the end, by the time the final scene rolls around promising a sequel that will never be, the taste of this lightly liberal-leaning movie is already dissipating like water-thinned Chardonnay. In any event, this slightly sweet, good-humored movie hardly deserves its R-rating — PG-13, maybe — and could easily be shared with most kids. Hell, Satan's Cheerleaders is a harder film than this baby, but then that was the 1970s and PG showed more those days: our society wasn't as prudish then as it is now.
"Lightly liberal-leaning movie?" What? How can a movie about three babelicious cheerleaders — Courtney (Trishelle Cannatella), April (Ginny Weirick of Dark Moon Rising [2009 / trailer]) and Monica (Maitland McConnell of The Curse of Chucky [2013 / trailer]) — moonlighting as strippers to earn money to go to college be "liberal leaning", you may ask, even if the three cheerleaders are super intelligent and butt-kicking ninjas at the same time? Well, alone the fact that the wise gay minority granddad of today's America, George Takei, is on hand should reveal that as exploitive as the plot sounds, the exploitive elements are downplayed in this comic fantasy adventure. Indeed, the girls are very much in charge of their own sexuality and, whenever confronted by the average, everyday (white) American male sleazeball who thinks that all sexy girls are sluts for the taking, they are more than able to defend themselves. (They may sexy, but they aren't sex toys.)
Indeed, but for the oddly attractive cop Det. Harris (Larry Poindexter of Sorceress [1995 / trailer]) and the double-dealing bad guy Victor Lazzaro (character actor Michael Paré of Village of the Damned [1995 / trailer], Bad Moon [1996 / trailer] and BloodRayne: The Third Reich [2011 / trailer]), all the white guys who have any spoken lines are obnoxious assholes: sailors out to rape, horny jocks, a horny coach on the make (Michael FitzGibbon), an  abusive alcoholic father (Dion DeRizzo). In turn, the minorities are all cool: the only good-guy sailor is black, as is Manny the Doorman (Omar J. Dorsey), and the cheerleader's ninja sensei Hiroshi (George Takei) is, of course, Asian American. Even the evil ninja Kinja (Natasha Chang), though out to kill our three intrepid heroines, at least takes them seriously — as does Det. Harris by the end of the movie, and bad guy Lazzaro from the start.
Ninja Cheerleaders is hardly a good movie; like its grandma, Satan's Cheerleaders, it is far more an inconsequential and mildly funny piece of fluff. The three leads do fine in their parts, exuding perkiness where needed and excelling when playing dumb. Ginny Weirick's attempts to have April express seething anger at possibly losing her financing for Brown University (and thus having to work for another year as a stripper) are a bit less successful, as she seems more constipated than angry. (Still, she takes shit from no one.) The fight choreography has a few too many cases of people attacking one by one instead of at the same time, and truly pales in comparison to any and all Hong Kong flicks we've seen, even the worst. Director Presley also has an annoying penchant for moving his camera for no reason. Remember that circular camera Brian De Palma uses in the original Carrie (1976 / trailer) that moves around the dancing Carrie and her date? In Carrie, it had reason: it was used to symbolize the dizzy, heady experience being had by Carrie at the prom. Presley does the same circling at least twice, for no reason at all, to the visual detriment of the scene(s): he is obviously less concerned that the camerawork actually assists the story than simply to have some sort of obvious camerawork. In the case of his circling camera, it is car-sickness-inducing, meaningless flash — in other words: unnecessary and annoying.
And, oddly, enough: the movie has both too much and too little bare breast. That the three heroines can earn their college money and win a state-wide stripper contest dancing as dully as they do, and without ever showing any breast, is beyond believability, though acceptable in the fantasy narrative that the movie maintains. In turn, by asking the viewer to accept this fantasy, the filmmakers then undermine it by having double-Ds flash by in the occasional cross-scene wipes and by having a later scene of a guy lolling around with two topless strippers while telephoning with our heroines. When it comes to love pillows, the filmmakers obviously either wanted to have their cake and eat it, too, or the actual age of their stars got in the way of any exploitive nude scenes. (Trishelle Cannatella, by the way, you can find nekkid online.)
Still, Ninja Cheerleaders is a decent if light and breezy B-movie about friendship and female empowerment. The cheerleaders know and understand the sexist world they live it, as well as the futurelessness of the white patriarchy of America and their own lower-working class background. Its innate baseness and blindness might annoy them, but they'll work with it as far as they want to, have to, and then kick butt or bust some balls.
Who needs the brainless, inferior white American male of today? Trump might, but the Ninja Cheerleaders don't.

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