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Friday, August 7, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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`3 Ninjas' Is Three Too Many As Summer Fare Hits An All-New Low

X "3 Ninjas," with Victor Wong, Rand Kingsley, Michael Treanor, Chad Power, Max Elliott Slade. Directed by Jon Turtletaub, from a script by Edward Emanuel. Aurora Village, Bay, Broadway Market, Gateway, Grand Cinemas Alderwood, Kent, Renton Village, Totem Lake, Valley drive-in. "PG" - Parental guidance advised, due to violence. --------------------------------------------------------------- Stupid summer just got dumber. You thought "Man Trouble" was bad? Or that nothing could slip lower than "Mom and Dad Save the World"?

The Disney studio, already responsible this season for "Encino Man," has now proven that it can bottom out with the best of them. Inspired by the Cuisinart school of screenwriting, "Three Ninjas" slices and dices the ideas from half a dozen hit movies and turns them into an extra-chunky-style, flavorless stew.

From "The Karate Kid," it borrows the idea of a grandfatherly Japanese martial-arts instructor (Victor Wong) - this time teaching not one but three boys how to defend themselves. Their first adventure is an "E.T."-style bicycle chase on a suburban tract-home street. Then there's the "Home Alone" lift: The three kids resourcefully do battle with inept thieves who break into their parentless home.

Naturally the thieves talk like Bill and Ted and Wayne and Garth and all the other awesome dudes who have cleaned up Cheech and Chong's 20-year-old stoned-druggies' act and given it middle-class respectability. They read "Surfer Chick" magazine, they stop for pizza at crucial moments, and they say things like "it's time for some excellent breaking and entering" and "first we feast, then we felony."

At least they're identified as something, which is more than you can say of the kids. There are no characters, although the chief villain (Rand Kingsley) is made up to look like Steven Segal, complete with slicked-back hair and pony tail. This is what passes for characterization. It isn't helped by a grating performance by Kingsley, who gets the least out of lines like "God, I love being a bad guy."

Roughly half of this short movie is taken up with fight scenes, a ninja basketball game, or preparations for fights, in which the kids wave swords, throw darts and demolish pottery with their feet. There's no screen time left for anything that isn't constantly in motion.

The director, Jon Turtletaub, completely misses the character-driven appeal of the "Karate Kid" series, and there's no Macauley Culkin in this cast. The movie is saddled with a junky visual style, haphazard editing and occasional out-of-focus shots. Much of it looks like very bad television, although the toilet jokes and a running gag about laxatives and "instant diarrhea" may be a little raw for the Disney Channel.

There's also a nostalgic kids' narration about "the summer we would never forget." If you're lucky, you'll have forgotten "Three Ninjas" by the time you pass the concessions stand.

Also on the program is "Petal to the Metal," a frantic, charmless cartoon that was produced by Disney's television animation division. The two belong together.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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