What started out as an internet meme becomes a feature length urban action-comedy from stuntman Mark Hicks.
Reggie Carson is a postal worker who is a bit overweight and feels like his life is going nowhere. His co-workers like him, but his supervisor always berates and makes him feel low. However, on Halloween, Reggie’s life is about to changed. Dressed up as martial artist and actor Jim Kelly, he comes across a package that has been stuck at the post office for over three decades. When a crazy customer threatens to blow up the post office, Reggie opens the package and receives a pair of nunchakus. While Reggie is able to get everyone safe, his attempt to stop the crazy man ends up on the Internet, making him the butt of jokes.
However, that is all about to change. A few days later after learning of his ridicule, which was set up by his boss, Reggie undergoes a transformation. The overweight, bald headed Reggie has now become a ripped man with an afro and on top of that, he has been giving superior fighting skills. He has become the Afro Ninja. When Reggie learns his Aunt Mary’s business has become a target for extortion, he becomes a one-man army against the group. The ringleader of the extortion ring is former kickboxing champion Black Lightning, who has been conspiring with the corrupt Mayor to take over all the small businesses and cover it to look like they are trying to help the community. When Afro Ninja learns the truth, he sets out to make things right.
Stuntman Mark Hicks has been working in the industry for a good part of three decades, with his most notable stunt doubling being that of Chris Tucker’s Inspector James Carter in the Rush Hour trilogy. However, he became a viral star when decked out in an afro and outfit and holding a pair of nunchakus, fails hard on a backflip. After an appearance in Weezer’s “Pork and Beans” music video in the role, Hicks has taken that character to a feature film and it is a fun American B-movie action-comedy.
It is clear that Afro Ninja is based on Jim Kelly, the iconic Blaxploitation martial arts action star from Enter the Dragon as in the opening, Hicks’ character of Reggie dresses up at Kelly for Halloween at work. Hicks is able to mesh lowbrow comedy with some fun martial arts action in the film. His character’s transformation may remind viewers of Troma’s Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D., but in the case of Reggie, his physical transformation doesn’t include any make-up effects but the fact he can all of a sudden speak Japanese but at the same time bring Blaxploitation tropes is fun nonetheless.
What is even more outstanding is that with his years of experience, Hicks has made friends in the film industry because he’s got some great support in the film. TV veteran Marla Gibbs plays Aunt Mary, who lets her street smart talking do the work for her. Stunt performer and former Hong Kong action star Michiko Nishiwaki plays restaurant worker Yuko, who gets one spin kick in against the extortionists upon their first appearance, but she is more relegated to a speaking role. Another stuntman/actor to watch is Derek Mears, who plays as a hulking co-worker of Reggie who is more of a good natured guy rather than a threat. Look out for a cameo by stunt performer Ming Qiu as a potential victim at an ATM until our hero arrives to save her.
James Black plays former kickboxing champion turned apparent community hero Black Lightning. Of course, he is actually the main villain of the piece. However, while Black has the action skills when needed, his character really cares more about making money and even goes as far as complain about production of his new shoes. That is, when he’s not forcing people out of the community by forcing his goons on the city folk. One would think a stereotype involves Afro Ninja hiring a group of Latino people to clean his house and yard, but he actually rewards them by holding a barbecue once the work is done. Where the former on its own may be cringing, the fact he rewards them afterwards brings a sense of relief in this case. Look out for a special cameo by the late Jim Kelly in the film not as himself, but someone important to our hero.
In the end, Afro Ninja: Destiny is a fun martial arts action film that has taken full advantage of a famous viral clips and perhaps brings a new hero in the midst. In this day of age, imagine this character teaming up with Black Dynamite on a film? That would be completely “solid”!
WFG RATING: B
A H3 Films Production. Director: Mark Hicks. Producer: Mark Hicks. Writers: Mark Hicks, Carlton Holder, and William Koressel. Cinematography: Thomas Kuo. Editing: Marvin J. Miller and Allen L. Sowelle.
Cast: Mark Hicks, Marla Gibbs, James Black, Natascha Hopkins, Marc Anthony Samuels, Michiko Nishiwaki, Derek Mears, Brent McEwan, Jim Kelly, Gary Anthony Sturgis, Ming Qiu.