If the title of this movie appeals, then congratulations: it’s time for a geek-gasm.
The more accomplished sequel to 2008’s daft-but-fun cheapie Ninjas Vs Zombies, …Vampires follows down-on-his luck Aaron who, moments after being rejected by the girl of his dreams, finds himself caught up in a battle between sinister bloodsuckers and magical ninjas. Teaming up with the high-kicking heroes, Aaron must man up and come face-to-face with his own inner badass. Can he save the day and get the girl?
What rookie writer/director Justin Timpane lacks in budget, he more than makes up for with tidal waves of energy, enthusiasm, and unbridled love for the fantasy genre. That his film is jam-packed with sex, violence, explosions, magic, throwing stars, and nunchuks doesn’t hurt either. It may not be art, but for fanboys, it’s wildly entertaining stuff.
Timpane may not be the finished article, but he sure knows how to stage thrilling action scenes on a shoe-string budget. As valorous assassins take on hordes of creatures, Timpane puts us right in amongst them, his camera gliding stealthily through the carnage, capturing every blow. Though the production values are often bargain-basement, counting the impressive number of edits in each furiously kinetic battle gives an idea of how hard the director is trying to emulate his favourite fight flicks.
Like a living, breathing comic book, it’s as though Timpane has roundhouse-kicked all his pop culture influences into a mystic blender and this madcap saga is what came pouring out. Fans of Buffy, Star Wars, X-Men and even The Karate Kid will enjoy a feast of knowing nods and winks and the fact that ninja leader Cole works at a comic store is a dead giveaway as to who this movie was made for.
Best. Movie. Ever.
Timpane doesn’t just borrow, but adds his own smart little licks to the genre, such as enchanted windows that enable his vamps to walk in sunlight, while the visual effects are of an unusually high standard for this kind of schlock. Though the ‘dissolving-vampires’ CGI isn’t great, the blood and gore looks disarmingly real and any film that features a ‘shuriken-cam’ deserves major respect.
Amidst all the otherworldly ass-kicking, Jay Saunders as goofy, reluctant hero Aaron emerges as one to watch, his formidable comedy chops and game, self-deprecating performance rendering the lovelorn geek as a likeable, amusing protagonist. When his shirt eventually comes off, unveiling him as a musclebound, capable kicker-of-butt, his delightful mixture of comedic prowess and able badassery make for a hugely enjoyable show.
The only way to bag a classy lady is to give her two tickets to the gun show…and see if she likes the goods…
If only all the performances were as beguiling. When not engaging in breathtaking martial arts mayhem, Cory Okouchi as Cole has all the charisma of a lump of wood, while wisecracking Kyle (Daniel Ross)’s smirking ‘zaniness’ can become downright annoying. These overweight schlubs often look ridiculous pulling off ninja stunts, though Ross’ sarcastic motormouth-with-a-big-heart could easily be a Joss Whedon creation and should appeal to Buffy fans.
Elsewhere, Villainous vampire lord Seth (Kurt Skarstedt) aims for eerie, wide-eyed intensity but just looks mental, staring off into the distance like a daydreaming J.D. from Scrubs.
That the rest of the vamps dress like they’re at a really crap costume party, with looks ranging from ‘plastic gladiator’ to ‘bondage gimp,’ is evidence of how seriously we are supposed to take all this. Overblown, ‘kooky’ performances abound with a bombardment of clichéd cackling, hissing, and peculiar offbeat ‘British’ accents.
Slappin da bass, mon!!!
…Vampires is harmless fun, though Timpane’s blitzkrieg of fantasy references can often be painful. You could have quite the drinking game playing ‘spot-the-reference,’ but the touchstones often feel laboured. When Aaron calls his beloved his ‘Mary Jane,’ his ‘Winnie Cooper,’ his yearning, puppy dog eyes almost let him get away with it. However, later scenes that clumsily reference Kevin Smith are excruciating and no-doubt impenetrable to outsiders.
Curiously, there is little offered in the way of exposition for franchise newbies looking to catch up, though Kyle’s explanation of ‘We used to be normal…then one day we woke up and we were ninjas!’ is wittily audacious. Other frequent attempts at comedy often fall flat, but frequent zingers like ‘Fuck you, Asshat!’ come so thick and fast that there are plenty giggles to go around.
Despite its faults, Ninjas Vs Vampires is a colourful, thrilling, giddy ride. Guilty pleasures don’t come much crazier and everyone involved is clearly having a blast. Those with low expectations should be pleasantly surprised and hopes should be high for this young director. Like his high-kicking heroes, Timpane is a normal guy punching above his weight, trying to achieve the extraordinary, and if he can reign in his excesses and be allowed to run amok with a real budget who knows what he could pull off?
Take a Drink: every time there’s a cheeky pop culture reference.
Take a Drink: each time ‘Gladiator’ Vampire’s accent changes. Is he Scottish? Welsh? Jamaican?!?!
Take a Drink: every time vamp-lord Seth attempts to look simmeringly devious but just looks confused.
Take a Drink: every time someone accepts something astronomically far-fetched as fact without stopping to question it at all.
Take a Drink :whenever the film rips off Predator, making you wonder why you didn’t just rent that instead.