It started as The Lego Ninjago Movie, now it’s just Ninjago. Anyway you slice this animated free-for-all, it doesn’t measure up to The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie. The story, based on a line of building sets that debuted in 2011, concerns high school students who have secret lives as ninjas. Why? They need to protect their hometown of Ninjago, a nation constructed from Lego blocks. It’s cool to have them voiced by Fred Armisen, Kumail Nanjiani, Abbi Jacobson, Michael Peña and Zach Woods. But all the caffeinated action in the world can’t disguise the fact that Ninjago, directed by Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher and Bob Logan from a script by writers too numerous to mention, is mostly spinning its wheels.
The saving grace comes in two terrifically funny voice performances: Dave Franco as Lloyd, the Green Ninja with the added secret burden of being being the estranged son of the team’s nemesis, Lord Garmadon. Justin Theroux, so good on HBO’s The Leftovers, speaks the role of this four-armed warlord with enough twisted wit to please any grownups dragged along for the Ninjago ride. Think of Darth Vader on laughing gas and you’ll get some idea of what Theroux is on about. Garmadon really is the father of Ninjago’s Luke Skywalker. But the best I can say about this movie is that it has no reverence for anything. The action and jokes pile up with exhausting repetitiveness. But Theroux and Franco make a truly hilarious team. And it’s a treat to see Jackie Chan show up – in person and animated – as a wise old shopkeeper. But even three acting aces can’t save a movie that’s only a full house of crass commercialism.