A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Beverly Hills Ninja is a 1997 martial arts comedy in which Chris Farley plays a clumsy ninja who must stop a counterfeiting ring. There's a lot of pratfall and slapstick violence as Farley falls, slips, trips, and knocks into people and objects at any given opportunity to do so. There are also scenes with punches and kicks, as well as fighting with guns and machine guns, and a scene in which a man is shot and killed before he falls off a bridge. There are some jokes revolving around sexual euphemisms ("choke that chicken" is a running gag), and Farley's character makes reference to a joke about a sensei and "the two 18-year-old geishas." In a strip club Farley's character becomes entranced by the rear end of one of the dancers, who later flashes him her breasts (not shown). Occasional profanity, including "a--hole" and "bulls--t." Some product placement of Budweiser signage and products. Some stereotypes about overweight people.
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What's the story?
In BEVERLY HILLS NINJA, a chest washes ashore and is discovered by a group of ninjas. Inside the chest is a baby. The baby is adopted by the ninjas, grows up, and trains with the other young ninjas. Named Haru (Chris Farley), his large size and clumsiness make him the worst ninja of all who are training. Naru is left behind while the other ninjas go on a mission. A woman named Sally Jones (Nicollette Sheridan) enters the temple and requests assistance in finding out what nefarious activities her husband is engaging in behind her back. Haru agrees to help her, and soon discovers that Sally's husband and bodyguard are engaged in a counterfeiting ring. Haru is unable to tell Sally of this before she leaves the island, and so Haru, with only a matchbook of a Beverly Hills hotel to guide him, resolves to travel across the ocean to Beverly Hills to continue to help Sally. Gobei, Haru's adoptive brother, is sent in secret to track Haru and make sure he doesn't get too far in over his head. Upon arrival in Beverly Hills, Haru finds a willing student (Chris Rock), a bellhop, who wants to train under him, and soon discovers that Sally isn't who she says she is. As he pursues the bad guys and goes from one calamity to the next, Haru must find a way to bust up the counterfeiting ring before more people, including "Sally," get hurt.
Is it any good?
Some comedies cannot be saved, no matter the talents of those involved, and Beverly Hills Ninja is such a movie. It was the last movie starring Chris Farley to be released during his lifetime, and while no one would expect a "Chris Farley Movie" to be anything but pure silliness mixed with pratfall after endless pratfall, his talents alone couldn't save what amounts to a dumb and very thin story. The over reliance on Farley's talent gets old within the first 30 minutes, as each scene essentially amounts to a set up and excuse for Farley to knock things over, fall down, and engage in the antics that made him one of the true luminaries of 1990s comedy, on Saturday Night Live and beyond.
It's not without some genuine funny moments that go beyond "big guy fall down go boom" humor. When Farley channels his inner Midwesterner to go in disguise as the annoyingly garrulous Chet Walters, his voice and mannerisms are as funny as his Matt "Van Down by the River" Foley character on Saturday Night Live, or his cameo as the bus driver in Billy Madison. Unfortunately, Farley didn't get enough moments like these to break out beyond increasingly-tiresome clumsiness and stale sexual euphemisms. The result is a ridiculous premise maintained by a formulaic storyline that loses steam at least 30 minutes before the movie actually ends.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about slapstick comedies like Beverly Hills Ninja. What's the appeal of comedy rooted in clumsiness that results in people and objects falling over?
What about Chris Farley's comedy makes it a movie that's uniquely his? What are some other examples of actors who have a signature style that gives them their own unique kind of "movie"?
What's the difference between slapstick and actual violence? Is real violence every funny? Why or why not?
- In theaters: January 17, 1997
- On DVD or streaming: October 19, 1999
- Cast: Chris Farley, Nicollette Sheridan, Chris Rock
- Director: Dennis Dugan
- Studio: Sony Pictures Entertainment
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Misfits and Underdogs
- Run time: 88 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: Sex related humor, martial arts violence and a humorous drug related scene.
- Last updated: February 5, 2021
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