322 Master Ninja I

(1984, Action/Television, color)

Master Ninja theme song!

Rating: **1/2

In a nutshell:

An occidental ninja master travels cross-country by van with his gerbil-loving sidekick.


Not Lee Van Cleef, but an incredible simulation.Blond pretty-boy Max Keller (Timothy Van Patten) drifts from town to town with his pet gerbil in a Chevy van, righting wrongs and regularly getting the beaten to a pulp in seedy bars. One day the wispy Holly (played by a very young and very husky Demi Moore) runs out in front of his van, fleeing a corrupt and libidinous small-town sheriff. Max takes her to her father’s airfield, where he witnesses her father getting pushed around by representatives of a local evil businessman. They want to tear the airfield down and turn it into a shopping center, but the father delivers a long rambling speech referencing some vague nostalgia and sends them on their way.

When Holly rebuffs Max’s advances, he heads for the nearest seedy bar. Inside, he witnesses the corrupt sheriff picking on an old man named John McAlister (Lee Van Cleef). McAlister turns out to be a ninja master, and tears the whole bar down for no good reason.

McAlister’s anti-bar gymnastics open an old wound, so Max takes him back to the airfield to recover. The corrupt sheriff and his flunkies burn down a hangar while they’re there. Max crashes the evil businessman’s party and swears revenge. The ninja master agrees to teach Max ninja stuff, so they work out in the woods while a guy in a chain-mail mask watches from the shadows. Then they torture a confession out of the sheriff and go after the businessman. Max kills the businessman with his new ninja skills, and a sudden montage of earlier footage reveals that the man in the chainmail mask is another ninja, sent to kill McAlister. (Apparently he was in every previous scene, in disguise.) A lot of bad fight choreography later, the interloper lies defeated in the computer room. McAlister and Max team up to find McAlister’s lost daughter and drive off to Atlanta, leaving Holly to pine for Max.

Take a deep breath. We’re only halfway through.

In our next episode…er, I mean…in the second half of the film they arrive in San Francisco (I guess they got lost on the way to Atlanta) where an ex-tap dancer has opened a nightclub with his daughters. One’s an exotic dancer in the club; the other is bitter and wheelchair bound. Chinatown thugs threaten the owner, but get scared when they see McAlister in the club. They chase each other down to the docks, where McAlister jumps on their car and steals their steering wheel through the windshield. This causes them to drive into the bay (apparently they forgot about the brakes).

The thugs kidnap the dancer daughter for ransom, and then force her to dance for them. She cries and dances badly until Max and McAlister break in and beat everyone up. They escape to a neighboring building across a high wire, where another one of those pesky ninjas is waiting. Max and the dancer daughter escape while McAlister fights his ninja foe. He throws up a smokescreen, takes off his ninja uniform, and puts it on an electrical transformer. The enemy ninja stabs it in the dark and electrocutes himself. They all go back to the club for a party, where the ninja master teaches the wheelchair-bound daughter to walk.


Anna Karenina, for kids.Tom, Crow, and Gypsy build a model car and quote Springsteen lyrics.

Host Segment One:

The Mads have invented intravenous dinners, and Dr. Forrester demonstrates them on Frank. Joel and the ‘Bots have made classic literature into pop-up books. Examples include “The Plague” (a pop-up skull) and “Ana Karenina” (with a pop-up train). They refuse to open the one of “Naked Lunch.”

Host Segment Two:

Crow unveils his latest conspiracy theory, The Van Patten Project. He shows a confusing flow chart detailing Dick Van Patten’s scheme to place one of his relatives in every bad TV show or film in Hollywood. Quoth Joel, “Could you please get to your point?” Quoth Crow, “I don’t have one.” Joel hurts him.

Host Segment Three:

Tom dresses as a ninja with a black hood and pink vegetable knife, accompanied by sinister theme music. Crow shows up as a ninja with a pie-plate mask, with different sinister theme music. Joel shows up as a good old-fashioned American thug, with his own theme music. They jump around while their musical themes battle for supremacy. Down in Deep 13, Dr. Forrester tries to smother Frank with a pillow.

Host Segment Four:

Joel and the ‘Bots demonstrate various kinds of nunchucks, including nun-clucks (rubber chickens on a chain), thumb-chucks (self-explanatory), and nun-chucks (the pious, black-robed kind). Quoth Crow, “What is a nunchucks but two things on a chain?”

Host Segment Five:

Joel and the ‘Bots sing a theme song for Master Ninja as follows:

Crow: Bum badum bum bum, Bum badum bum bum, (repeated)
Tom: Wakka chikka wakka chikka (repeated)
Gypsy: Ba baba ba bababa, ba baba ba bababa, (repeated)
Joel: Master Ninja theme song! (repeated at odd intervals)

Joel reads a letter. Down in Deep 13, Frank tries to smother Dr. Forrester. Joel and the ‘Bots sing “Master Ninja theme song!” over the ending credits.


Quoth Max, “To them it’s some kind of ritual.”


Somewhere else in the world, Ashton Kutcher is six years old.I think I’ve stumbled across a deep international conspiracy. Two actors, Lee Van Cleef and Timothy Van Patten, star in a bad action series from the eighties about a ninja master and his student who travel cross-country in a Chevy van. VAN Cleef, VAN Patten, in a Chevy VAN? Coincidence? Well, yes, probably. I’m sorry I wasted your time.

The show has the horrible, simplistic plots of most martial arts shows, without the martial arts. Sure, there are guys in black suits prancing around each other, as well as a smoke bomb or two, but Van Patten doesn’t rate a stunt double and the elderly Van Cleef’s double seems to be even less flexible than he is. Also, where does the gerbil fit in?

The host segments work in general. The invention exchange is acceptable, but the Van Patten project sketch was too confusing (though I laughed when Crow referred to Dick Van Patten’s children as his “hellish drop”). The theme music battle was funny once I figured out what was going on. The funniest sketches were the model car reflections, the nunchucks variations (Tom’s Chinese lantern head was a nice touch), and the Master Ninja theme song.

The best parts of the film segments are when Joel and ‘Bots try and figure out just what on earth is going on. About halfway through the second plot, Joel asks, “Where’s Demi Moore?” Early on, Crow notes that Lee Van Cleef looks “as much like a ninja as Irene Ryan.” During the bouncing San Francisco car chase everyone yells “Flubber!” whenever a car leaves the ground. With the commentary, the movie is good, stupid martial arts fun, without any real martial arts. It’s worth watching once, if only for Demi Moore and the gerbil.