The film opens with a bang, kicking off in a Yakuza nightclub where an envelope containing only black sand is delivered to the gangster in charge. After a long monologue by an old tattoo artist about the violence that erupted the last time he saw such an envelope, the ninja strikes, emerging from the shadows to slice and dice his way through an army of gun-shooting henchmen. There is, of course, much beheading and vivisecting and fake CGI blood, and at least in this opening sequence -- as over-acted as it all may be -- there's a fair amount of martial arts awesomeness, as well. It's only in the next sequence, when this over-long action set piece attempts to be an actual movie, that things go so horribly awry. Naomie Harris plays a Europol researcher named Mika who somehow manages to convince her boss over five minutes of exposition about events that we never actually get to witness that a clan of ninjas is secretly hiring themselves out as assassins to high-bidding clients. Suddenly, government agents from the FBI, CIA, MI6, etc. make their nefarious presence known to warn off Mika from the case. Why and how these agencies are connected to the ninja clan, we can't be sure, but it's suggested that the ninjas have relationships very high up the chain of command. Meanwhile, we're introduced to Raizo (played by musician and martial arts expert Rain) who flashes back on his training at the ninja academy, coming to understand that the abuse he suffered there, and the murder of a student who'd been his lover, are indications of a much deeper corruption. The student must fight back against his clan and stop their machinations, and to do so, he must save Mika, now the ninjas' primary target. This is as deep as the story ever gets, simply setting up a few chases and action set pieces to allow for maximum ninja action. But what's most upsetting is that the things we're told but never see actually speak to a potentially much smarter movie. All the international intrigue, the assassination of high-ranking government targets -- all of this suggests a kind of Bourne-style mash-up of international espionage and ninja ass-kicking that would no doubt have offered a much more engaging experience. Instead, we're left with a rogue ninja trying to protect an attractive stranger in the hopes that she'll draw out their leader and he can earn his revenge. Unfortunately, that, and only that, simply isn't enough. Thankfully, however, the fight choreography is fast, frenetic and, in a few choice moments, rather graceful in its execution. Knives, swords, fists and bladed chains tear through limbs and heads, leaving dozens of bodies in their wake. And for all the relentless blood-letting, as exciting as it is, the darkness in which the ninjas fight too often obscures the eloquence of the dance. Obviously, ninjas attack from the shadows, but if all the combat takes place there, the opportunity to really capture the quality of the movement threatens to be lost entirely. What we do admire about the film is that Raizo takes some serious damage. He's outnumbered and out-skilled, resulting in a rather brutal collection of gashes and scars across his body. We're never asked to buy that he's so talented that he can take on an entire clan single-handed, all of which lends some level of believable danger to the battle scenes. James McTeigue, who's last film, V for Vendetta, offered a wonderfully intelligent, well-performed and action-packed narrative, focuses purely on the action this time around. Intelligence and good acting is, quite frankly, nowhere to be seen in Ninja Assassin. But McTeigue's ability to frame a shot and make the visuals truly stand out is on clear display. If only he'd been as demanding with the overall quality instead of placing all his cards on the general bad-assery of the ninja, the film might have been a first-rate, well-rounded action flick. Sadly, however, it's simply something to check out should it come across cable TV, or a DVD worth purchasing to show off your HDTV and surround-sound system. But it's not quite worth a full-price ticket to the theater on a Saturday night, at least not for those in search of a real movie. Those willing to accept hacked limbs and well-staged ass-kicking without any real dramatic hook, however, will no doubt have a blast.