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Overall Rating

Awesome: 13.79%
Worth A Look: 34.48%
Average: 3.45%
Pretty Bad41.38%
Total Crap: 6.9%

3 reviews, 11 user ratings

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Karate Kid, The (2010)
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by Erik Childress

"It's Called Kung Fu, Stupid!"
2 stars

Everyone has that one summer at the movies that they remember the most fondly. For myself that year was 1984 when I had friends seemingly going to the show every week and sets of parents willing to drive and leave their children in the hands of archaeologists, gremlins and busters of ghosts. The Karate Kid was also part of that summer and though I may not have caught up with it until it was on cable, the year is still the thing and the film will always be a part of it for me. Films from the surrounding period may have worn out their welcome over the years, but something about this film has remained a constant. As underdog stories go it certainly earns Top Five status; a category that already contains a little film from the same director called Rocky. For whatever cheesiness that might stand out from the soundtrack to the pasttimes of its bullies, Daniel LaRusso and Mr. Miyagi earned their iconic status with a poignant friendship for the ages. I doubt very strongly in 25 years if kids today will be saying the same about Dre Parker and Mr. Han.

Dre (Jaden Smith) is in kind of the same boat that Daniel was back in the day. His mom (Taraji P. Henson) is packing them up so she can take a new job transfer. Only he is twelve and the faraway land is not Los Angeles, but China. Making friends can be hard when you don't speak the language, but Dre does manage to connect with a pretty girl studying around the playground. When she is bothered by some other little punks their age, Dre steps in and subsequently takes a beating for it. Never learning to leave well enough alone as his torment persists from the boys, Dre antagonizes them again and is saved from a team beating by his building's handyman, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan).

Mr. Han heals the boy's wounds and even accompanies him to plead "mercy" from the bullies' fighting instructor; a term often preceded by the word "no" in their mantra. As a compromise, Han offers a temporary reprieve for Dre's face in exchange for bringing the fight to the ring in an upcoming tournament. Once accepted, he offers to teach the boy all that he knows about the art of fighting - as well as how to pick up that jacket he keeps throwing on the floor. Even if you are unfamiliar with the original film, it is unlikely you need to read anymore about the plot from here on out to know where this is headed. If you hold the 1984 version close to your heart even for nostalgic purposes, you should already have started questioning what the purpose of this remake was.

That is also a pointless question by now. Familiar products make money without the necessity of having to spin out plot details. The opening scenes do begin to paint a slightly different picture and there is hope that director Harald Zwart and screenwriter Christopher Murphey were going to at least mount an effort to take the story seriously. Dre has penciled in his growth accomplishments on the wall like most kids and that includes growing into the man of the house after his dad died. This was an unexplored element of the original and while it might help soften Dre's attitude, it is shot like a rocket into our lap by using John Mayer's "Say", an ode to speaking your mind to those you love before its too late that was the theme to The Bucket List of all things. Reminding us of that evil picture is not the start you want to get off to.

But that is all Zwart and Murphey proceed to do for the next two hours and ten minutes. Try as they might to maintain the dignity of the Miyagi name by changing it to Han and accentuating their disassociation from the first film, this Karate Kid is like a side-by-side comparison sans the emotional know-how. Dre has his first encounter with the bullies protecting the honor of a girl one of them is serendipitously promised to. Mr. Han sees Dre trying to learn fight moves when coming over to make repairs. Dre antagonizes the bullies by getting them wet and has to be saved by Mr. Han. The boy is taught his initial lesson through a menial task much to his surprise. There is a dead family, a bad sensei who preaches "no mercy," but then grants it in exchange for a tournament match-up (though one that lacks the Vietnam background thay may have fueled his bastardization of the Asian arts), a special technique to be used at the right time, a sweep/break-the-leg moment, healing hands and so much more that's familiar that one might feel like they are on Lost, flashing sideways to better times. The makers clearly are not as far removed as they might present and that is evident when they poke fun at variations of how to catch a fly with chopsticks and a throwaway gag to Han polishing his car. If "wax on, wax off" brings out your childish side, be prepared for the aftermath of "jacket off."

Memories and reimagination are not what sinks The Karate Kid from the ranks of the unnecessary to all-out collapse. That burden falls squarely on Jaden Smith. The kid may be young but in just a few beefed-up movie roles has projected a bothersome posture in his performances that catches up to him in a major way here. Nobody wants to put the blame squarely on nepotism, but from the very beginning there is a way about Dre that ceases upon a sense of entitlement where attitude can cover for a lack of acting chops. Ralph Macchio may never have gone onto a career as an award-winning thespian and Daniel LaRusso was most certainly a Jersey boy with a flair for overconfidence. But those traits were challenged when he discovered he was outmatched and alone. Miyagi was less of a father figure than LaRusso was a son to him; the son he lost in childbirth. The emotional credence of that discovery and the presentation of Daniel's birthday gift took an actor who understood the humbling precipice of those moments. Jaden's Dre in the reaction to Mr. Han's tragedy reads less, at that moment, like a boy trying to help his mentor get back on his feet than a boy thinking "hey old man, enough, and help me with my problem." And in Dre's post-injury, pre-final match scene with Han we see not a shred of a performance from Smith. Macchio sold the moment in not wanting his tormentors to "get the best" of him and pleading with Miyagi to heal him so he would have s hot. Jaden adds a layer of monotony so thick you might think he is still learning to read from the cue cards placed on the ceiling for him. It becomes the film's Crane kick moment; only directed at its own face.

The new Karate Kid's one saving grace is Jackie Chan who does ease into Pat Morita's shoes without trying to necessarily fill them. It is a natural, inspired choice to occupy the spirit of Miyagi while the screenplay keeps desperately trying to morph the two. Even if he's just playing a version of himself, what kid wouldn't jump at the chance to learn a martial art from the living master? Chan makes the film far more tolerable than it deserves to be which at 130 minutes plus is a few minutes longer than John G. Avildsen's despite cutting out much of the slow burn of the Kid's training. Painting, waxing and sanding have become jacket-wearing lessons and, even with prior knowledge, lessens the impact of the big reveal. The greater surprise in store for Dre is that he actually has no business being called The Karate Kid when he has been learning the Chinese art of Kung Fu all along. Maybe Zwart, Murphey and Smith could have used a few painting, waxing and sanding lessons themselves.

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originally posted: 06/11/10 15:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Astana International Action Film Festival For more in the 2010 Astana International Action Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

12/02/10 mr.mike A bit long but not bad. 4 stars
9/23/10 Dr.Lao For a re-make, its not bad. Chan is no Pat Morita, but the story does inspire. 4 stars
9/12/10 Nadine Russo One of the best movies of all times. Love this movie and I do own it. 5 stars
7/03/10 Mamababa Newsflash, Erk - Crane Style isn't karate either. Great remake.Jackie's best acting yet. 5 stars
6/22/10 Ken Kastenhuber When I 1st heard about this remake I had NO interest, good word changed my opinion. 4 stars
6/13/10 Rich I loved every second of it ... the entire audiance applauded the movie. 5 stars
6/13/10 Ming Jackie chan is great..I love this story even though it repeat the original one 4 stars
6/13/10 Seriously I loved the original and love this one too. 5 stars
6/12/10 Darkstar Hated every second of it. 1 stars
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  11-Jun-2010 (PG)
  DVD: 05-Oct-2010

  N/A (PG)

  11-Jun-2010 (M)
  DVD: 05-Oct-2010

Directed by
  Harald Zwart

Written by
  Chris Murphy
  Steven Conrad

  Jackie Chan
  Jaden Smith
  Taraji P. Henson

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