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`3 NINJAS’ SEQUEL RUNS OUT OF KICKS - BUT NOT RIPOFFS

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The scariest line of dialogue to be spoken in a movie so far this year comes at the end of "3 Ninjas Kick Back," as young Tum Tum (Evan Bonifant) pops up on the screen and talks directly to the audience. He looks like Porky Pig about to announce, "Th-th-that's all, folks!" But instead, he says, "Hope there's food in our next adventure. See ya next time!"

If this first sequel is any indication, however, the "3 Ninjas" franchise has already run out of steam.The first "3 Ninjas" movie, while a blatant ripoff of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and "Home Alone" (minus the turtles or Macaulay Culkin), was a harmless bit of fluff for the kiddies. It was also an unexpected box office hit.

But "3 Ninjas Kick Back" is proof the well has gone dry. There's more of the same, this time combining its "Ninja Turtle" and "Home Alone" elements with "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York," "The Karate Kid, Part II" and even "The Bad News Bears Go to Japan." (You know you're in trouble when you have to steal ideas from bad sequels!)

And there's desperation in the air when the movie's big comic moment centers around a fat kid in a little league game who eats a can of beans before getting up to bat, then cuts loose with flatulence as everyone on the sidelines faints.

The main plot has our heroes - Rocky (Sean Fox), Colt (Max Elliott Slade) and the constantly hungry Tum Tum - going to Japan to help their grandfather (the endearing Victor Wong) deliver a sacred dagger and, ultimately, uncover a cave of gold. They also team up with a ninja-kicking girl (Caroline Junko King) and take on a trio of dumb bad guys (who make the antics of Larry, Moe and Curly seem sophisticated).

But plotting is secondary to the boys' adventures, as they set up "Home Alone"-style boobytraps for the villains, battle sumo wrestlers and an army of evil ninjas and generally get into all sorts of mischief - all the while appeasing their naive parents (who are still in America) by calling them on a cell phone during fights, assuring them that everything is OK.

There's no question that this movie is aimed directly at small fry - and there's no question that it is strictly for them. In other words, if your children insist on seeing it, you may want to send them, rather than take them.

"3 Ninjas Kick Back" is rated PG for the expected kick-'em-up violence and some vulgar jokes.