Around 1988, action movies went through a metamorphosis. Previously, it had been about big, over-the-top shoot 'em up movies with tough guys like Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson. After Bloodsport with Jean Claude Van Damme, the change shifted to karate tournament-type fighting movies, and nowhere is this more apparent than in American Ninja 3, which, while abysmal overall, is interesting in that it combines the "kumite" type movie we would see as a subgenre in the late 80s/early 90s, and melds it with the earlier blow up shit good genre of action films that the American Ninja franchise embodies. Bradley obviously embodied thet Van Damme fighting style that Golan Globus were pioneering at the time- his kicks and fluidity are clearly in the same vein. Unfortunately, Bradley, while likeable, never had the charisma of a JCVD, and he can't pull this movie off as a lead.
David Bradley plays Sean Davidson, a guy who's father was killed during a karate tournament, and was subsequently raised by a ninja masseuse. I didn't know that ninjas went to work in the physical therapy industry, since, by virtue of their skills of obsfucation and manipulation, they'd probably be able to eek out a pretty nice living elsewhere. But I digress. So anyway, Sean is trained and raised by the Ninja massage therapist, and grows up to be a world class karate fighter (he even made the cover of 'Inside Karate' magazine or some shit like that). He travels to an unnamed exotic island (American Ninja cliche 101) to compete in a tournament, and trouble ensues with a bad guy named "the Cobra." Are you psyched yet? Didn't think so.
Plotwise, this movie is almost a remake of part 2, with the same kind of bad guy, and antidotes replacing super ninjas. Won't waste too much time recalling it, since the filmmakers obviously weren't bothered to either.
Steve James returns as the incomparable Curtis Jackson, and he's also competing in the martial arts tournament- I guess using swords or something. After watching this with part four, where they got the Dudikoff back, I can only guess the producers realized Bradley had major shortcomings as a lead and martial artist, and needed someone to carry him, a job James does admirably here. He's probably the brightest spot in this shit fest. He's obviously not having as much fun as in American Ninja 2 or Avenging Force, but he's still kicking some ass and showing off his buffness. The vibe I got is that James was here collecting a paycheck or making the final payments on his used Hundai or something, and I'm cool if that's the case. Guy's gotta eat, right? When he's lamenting to Sean, asking him if they can fight a different type of baddie, like a robber or terrorist, how he's been fighting ninjas for "a long time," I think it was a shoot on James' part. But that's my take.
The pair of Jackson and Davidson is rounded out by an annoying sidekick like the marines in AN II, but he's nowhere near as annoying as the guy who replaced James in American Ninja IV. There's also a hot chick in here who plays a female ninja, a "ninjette" if you will (Michele Chan, I think is her name). She has this cute Roxette aqua net hairdo, and has the biggest hard-on for Jackson and spends a lot of time touching his buff bod. Who wouldn't, right ladies?
The ninjas kinda suck here royally as well. In the other movies, they were all over the place, coming out of the woodwork like cockroaches. Here, even the wimpy sidekick beats some ninja ass quite easily. I was let down.
Another terrible aspect of this movie is its truly weak theme song, 'the Cobra Strikes.' What kind of shit is that? Where's the Stan Bush, over-the-top guy singing his heart out about never giving in and killing people if they blink? What a letdown. Overall, if you HAVE to see all the American Ninja franchise (or you feel like you'll be completely lost in the deep plot while watching part IV), take this for what it is, and be happy that in part IV, they needed Dudikoff so bad, they "found him at the school." If you aren't an AN fanatic, skip this and watch part II again.