For the second time in as many weeks, I’m forced to put my status as a
movie lover into question. This time, it’s for confessing to no prior
knowledge of the Karate Kid franchise. I only know that The Next
Karate Kid sucked, and that knowledge came to me second-hand.
To that end, I can only judge this remake on its own merit, and I judge
it to be “mixed.”
Make no mistake: This movie very stringently follows the formula set
by its namesake. The story has beats you could set your watch to
(including a handful of training montages), the love interest is
cardboard and the antagonist is a one-dimensional bully whose teacher is
one-dimensionally evil. Oh, and there’s a “best friend” character who
takes our hero under his wing early on… and is strangely never seen
And yet, when the script isn’t being implausible, cliched or
predictable, it actually has some pretty good dialogue. There are a lot
of scenes here in which the kids actually talk like kids. Unfortunately,
this is often a difficult thing to tell, as the kids in this movie
simply can’t act. Except for Jaden Smith.
The movie’s star is clearly his father’s son. Smith has action chops,
he’s pretty good at comedy, he’s got charisma and he has his dad’s
knack for charm through slight self-deprecation. He’s also a solid actor
for so young an age, though he really needs to work on his crying.
Taraji P. Henson also turns in some fine work as Smith’s mom. The two
have great chemistry and their parent/child dynamic is just perfect.
Henson brings a mom who’s clearly very concerned about her kid and loves
him deeply, but also isn’t willing to put up with his shit. In a genre
where parents usually play the antagonist role and a movie that allows
for absolutely zero gray area between hero and villain, it’s refreshing
to see a mother who’s supportive yet balanced. On a different note,
there were a few brief moments in which I thought that the movie was
going to try and sell us a love subplot between Henson and Jackie Chan’s
character. Thankfully, the movie veered from that path pretty quick.
And that clever segue brings me to this movie’s true surprise: Jackie
Chan. In this movie, Chan brings something that’s been strangely
lacking for the past decade: EFFORT. Seriously, just when he
seemed resigned to his reputation as a washed-up punchline, he does
this. Chan actually works to craft a character who’s mysterious and
deceptively strong, and then gradually peels back the layers to reveal
the cliched, tortured past behind the standard omniscient adviser.
Nevertheless, he turns in a good performance and it marks the first time
I’ve seen Jackie Chan implicitly embrace the fact that he’s getting on
in years. That brought a lot to this role and I’d like to see him do it
Visually, the film presents China as an absolutely beautiful and
exotic place, totally whitewashing the communism, human rights
violations and subpar health conditions over there. Aside from that, the
camera work is pretty bland and the music is even more so. The songs
are the same kind of crap that you’ve likely heard on the radio day in
and day out. The score, meanwhile, is total schlock and only really
works during the film’s emotional high notes. In the context of the
movie, the score is hit-and-miss. Outside the movie, this score would be
totally worthless. But the fight scenes? AWESOME. The acrobatics and
choreography are phenomenal and the impacts are visibly felt. Truly
amazing stuff, especially considering how young the combatants are.
In short, The Karate Kid is totally inconsequential. It’s
predictable and shallow as movies get, but the fight scenes kick ass,
the lead performances are solid and there are some cute moments to be
found. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s not many shades above mediocre,
either. If you’re looking for a movie to go in one ear and out the
other, this is the one for you.