Mystery Science Theater 3000: Master Ninja 2 (1992)
Director: Jim Mallon
Writers: Paul Chaplin, Frank Conniff, Mike Gandolfi and Joel Hodgson
Starring: Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu and Kevin Murphy

The Plot: Joel Hodgson is an employee at Gizmonic Institute when the evil Dr. Forrester shoots him into outer space on the Satellite of Love. Here he is forced to endure bad movies on a weekly basis. Thankfully Joel was able to build himself a few robotic friends to help him deal with these bad movies. Among these robots are Gypsy who runs the ship, cam-bot who watches their every action and of course the wise-cracking Crow and Tom Servo who help him riff on the movies as they watch them. In this episode, Joel and his robot friends take on the equally unsavory sequel to the original Master Ninja! This episode essentially continues the format of Master Ninja 1. John Peter McAllister (Lee Van Cleef) teams up with young Max Keller (Timothy Van Patten) as they travel around the country randomly helping people and trying to avoid a savage ninja played by Sho Kosugi! There’s not much more than that, to be honest. This time out Max Keller gets to make out with two different girls and save the day with his old ninja friend. Joy!

The Review
If there is any one good thing that you can dare say about the Master Ninja “series”, it is that it fully brings to life the classic days of eighties television. When it comes to eighties television action serials, the first name that will inevitably come up is The A-Team. There’s a simple reason for that, it is one of the few that managed to perfect the concept. There were other titles that popped up within the decade, but few that could really stand up to any kind of scrutiny from the public. Among the litany of titles that ultimately failed, The Master would have to be the most obvious project destined for failure. At the time, the aging Lee Van Cleef was far from the man of action that he was during his prime and even in his prime there were few who would have cast Cleef in the role of a pugilist or a martial artist. A prime Lee Van Cleef stood 6’2″ and likely weighed around 155 pounds. He had a very odd body type even in his best days, and during the eighties at the age of sixty-something Lee Van Cleef had put on a very noticeable beer-gut and was showing his age in all of his movements. Casting this man to star in a televised action yarn where he would play a wise ninja on a weekly basis and have repeated fight scenes, could the project have been any more doomed? These concepts, from Cleef’s beer gut to his general miscasting, create ample opportunity for Joel and the bots to create some hillarious riffs along the way!

With the quality of the riffing that Joel and the bots do with the Master Ninja series, it’s unfortunate that the crew didn’t have the chance to continue on and work on the rest of the series. Timothy Van Patton’s vocal inflection is still as mumbled here as it was in Master Ninja 1 and the entire premise of the TV Show, err, I mean “Movie”, seems as implausible and patently ridiculous as ever. The American fascination with the Ninja, particularly during the eighties, was certainly a curiosity for others to some day look back upon. Master Ninja and The Master are similar to many American renditions of this mythological character only substituting a Japanese master with a weathered old man who obviously was not in anything resembling “athletic shape”. I often feel that these movies were written by those who had seen Hong Kong martial arts films and their implausible take on the ninja character, which often bordered on racist in its over the top and conniving portrayal of the Japanese. So in that sense, it is almost like the blind leading the blind. Although Joel and the guys aren’t that interested in the socio-political portrayal of Asian culture within the American mainstream, every time they made a jab at these incredibly dumb movies it was as if they were also contributing to a good deed. In that sense the guys aren’t just entertaining, they are making reperations! I kid, of course.

Master Ninja 1 had a disjointed and fractured storyline, but it seemed as if the editors at least tried to edit the series into feature length format. However, this time out it just seems to be a slam-bang two episodes joined together at the hip. The first half of the “movie” at least features a very young Crystal Bernard (Helen from the sitcom Wings) and a ridiculous motorcross setting. Due to the eighties setting, the big hair and the action sports (or EXTREME sports), you may begin to feel some similarities to classic titles such as Rad, but believe me this is nowhere near as interesting or decent. The schlockyness doesn’t stop there, as the tying together of these two episodes to form a “feature” becomes ever apparent in the editing here. After the motocross riding excitement of the first half ends, the anti-terrorist action begins that marks the uninteresting second half. The only thing that makes the entire experience bearable is brilliant riffing by the MST3K crew. The quality in that regard is just as brilliant as it was during the Master Ninja 1 episode, making these two of my favorite episodes during the earlier seasons.

Host Segments and Special Features
The guys have a lot of fun during the host segments here. They demonstrate some utterly terribly improvisation, as Gypsy doesn’t seem to get the entire premise and throws out nonsensical words and phrases for the guys to invent a scene around. Later on the crew display their favorite “rockin’ 80’s action vans” as seen in the Master Ninja series. In possibly my favorite host segment of the two Master Ninja episodes, Crow displays his impression of George C. Scott’s Patton, by way of Timothy Van Patten. That’s right, we are talking Timothy Van PATTON! Brilliant! From the entire Shout! Factory Mystery Science Theater 3000 Volume XX box set, this episode features my favorite special feature: the Tom Servo Vs. Tom Servo Panel at Dragon*Con 2010. This features the two voices of Tom Servo, J. Elvis Weinstein and Kevin Murphy, having a forty minute discussion about their time spent on Mystery Science Theater 3000. A long, interesting and hillarious segment, I recommend this feature almost as much as I do the entire episode! Maybe even the box set for that matter!

The Conclusion
The Master Ninja episodes are almost one long continuation for me and I really enjoy them as a cohesive single episode. They are episodes that I have come back to on a regular basis and no matter how many times I may see them, I feel I can always come back to them for guaranteed entertainment. A classic episode, just like the first feature. I give it a four out of five and I highly recommend it. Some of the best MST3K action from the Joel years!