Netflix has always been great about highlighting overlooked films by introducing them to new audiences. From its newly-added Shuffle Play feature to its Top Ten spotlight, the streaming giant is always finding new ways to broaden our horizons and get us hooked on stories with which we were previously unfamiliar. Now, a Chris Farley-led martial arts comedy from the ’90s is available on the streaming service, and it is doing remarkably well.
Beverly Hills Ninja hit theaters back in January 1997, eleven months before Chris Farley passed away suddenly at the age of 33. As such, it was the last movie he starred in that was released during his lifetime. While knowing that may make the experience of watching it tough for longtime fans of the actor, it is comforting realizing that the actor strove to bring joy and levity to audiences right up until the end. Critics may not love the movie but there is plenty to adore about Chris Farley’s overlooked and undervalued romp. The film proves that he never seemed to lose his infectious spirit, even if he had been struggling with his own demons for years.
The film centers around Chris Farley’s lovable Haru, who was saved by ninjas when he was a baby. Despite his new family’s best efforts to shape him into a formidable warrior, he does not graduate with the rest of his fellow fledgling ninjas and is left to guard the temple when the ninjas are out doing ninja stuff. It’s when the ninjas are away that a visitor comes to change his life and help him fulfill his destiny. It’s a classic underdog story, one that doesn’t shake out the way you expect it to and ends up being better because of it.
It is best to ignore its critical reception, because one look at some of the reviews it received may turn you off the film immediately. Of the movie, veteran critic James Berardinelli said it “isn’t just juvenile, it’s lackluster and unfunny.” Try to look past that, though. There is plenty to love about the film, and its charm is actually, amazingly still intact over 20 years after its release.
The film grossed just over $31 million at the domestic box office, which puts it near the top of the list of Chris Farley’s highest-grossing movies. Tommy Boy and Black Sheep both raked in similar numbers domestically, and Beverly Hills Ninja sits in that same ballpark, too.
The film’s director, Dennis Dugan, is also known for helming Happy Gilmore, Big Daddy, The Benchwarmers, and other comedies that weren’t exactly beloved by critics but that have nonetheless earned their places in the pantheon of underrated comedy films.
It’s encouraging that the film is doing so well on Netflix. It deserves a second chance in the spotlight, if only because Chris Farley is just so endearing and memorable in the title role (as he is in pretty much every performance he gave us). It seems like viewers are rediscovering the joy a Chris Farley performance inherently brings, and it is a fine way to honor his incredible legacy.
To get a better idea of just how profoundly Chris Farley impacted the entertainment world (and the world in general), all you have to do is look at the tributes that his friends and colleagues still give him. Just a few years ago, Adam Sandler performed a heartfelt song about the late actor, one that very nearly put had him in tears. Watching old news broadcasts from the day he died is chilling, mostly because it was so upsetting and so sudden.
If you want a better, deeper look into Chris Farley’s life, check out his brother’s 2008 biography about him. Written by a man who obviously knew Farley very well and had a front-row seat to many of his struggles, the biography is perhaps our closest look at the late comedian, one that’s as much of a tearjerker now as it was when it first hit shelves.
If you are looking for something fun and low-brow to watch this week and have missed out on some Chris Farley, check out Beverly Hills Ninja. It is a feel-good movie bolstered by fun performances and enough laughs to distract you from these troubling times.