Friday, June 11, 2010

Movie Review: The Karate Kid

Here's the review I promised! Enjoy!

Playground Fight Club
The Karate Kid has terrifying tweens

China-phobes beware: The Karate Kid suggests in no uncertain terms that the commies to our East are building a massive battalion of super-powered adolescent killing machines capable of defying Newton’s petty laws and willing to defile the seed of Will Smith. Over there “everyone knows kung fu,” according to Dre Parker, played by Jaden Smith (the aforementioned spawn of our freshest prince), and they have all mastered exactly enough English to taunt us. Our only hope lies in convincing kindly elderly men to train our wee ones in the ways of their death dealing.

Okay, fine. In reality, this non-remake remake—originally more appropriately titled The Kung Fu Kid—is a generally sweet ode to makeshift father/son relationships and the isolation and abuse of adolescence, jam packed with wretched supporting performances and a horrifyingly uncomfortable prepubescent dance sequence. Its bloated length betrays its simplicity as much as Christopher Murphey’s screenplay betrays parental logic.

How bad is the parenting in The Karate Kid? Single mother Sherry Parker (Taraji P. Henson) begins by moving her 12-year-old son, Dre (Smith), to China for a job we’re never shown but pays poorly, given their sparse apartment. She then plunks him into a school presumably taught in a dialect her son doesn’t speak, populated by terrifying murder moppets who beat the bejesus out of him. Finally, when her son decides to learn kung fu in order to enter a tournament filled with his tormenters, she permits her only child to spend hours upon hours “training” unsupervised with an incredibly quiet handyman she’s barely met. She may as well have dropped him off at a NAMBLA meeting.

Lucky for her, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) isn’t a creeper, as long train rides across the Chinese countryside really are for the purposes of mastering kung fu and not the easiest kidnapping ever perpetrated. The relationship between the kindly old man and his surrogate son is actually stupidly endearing, with Chan replacing the whimsical smarminess of Pat Morita’s Mr. Miyagi from the original Karate Kid with genuine warmth and affection.

What’s not endearing, stupidly or otherwise, is the incomprehensibly uncomfortable budding romance between Dre and Meiying (Wenwen Han), a permanently smiling violinist and fellow student. The flirtation between the two is the catalyst for kung fu disciple Cheng (Zhenwei Wang) to begin his bullying, which is fine. Far, far less fine is the sexytime, booty-grinding near pole dance Meiying performs for Dre. If someone were to press charges against director Harald Zwart, exhibit A is ready.

With Smith turning in an uneven but mostly fun performance, the film’s biggest strength beyond Chan’s sincerity is the shockingly kick-ass ass kicking. Forget the defiance of gravity and logic, the tournament is as brutal and well staged as it can be with stunt doubles for 12-year-olds. It’s downright thrilling, albeit almost a half hour late in arriving.

The Karate Kid shares only a name and general inspiration with its predecessor. Unlike the 1984 installment, this version won’t be given the free pass of nostalgia into the collective consciousness. But as far as remakes go, it’s no illegal kick to the groin.

Grade – C+

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