THE KARATE KID
*1/2 (out of 5)
June 11, 2010
Jaden Smith as DRE PARKER
Jackie Chan as MR. HAN
Taraji P. Henson as SHERRY PARKER
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Directed by: Harald Zwart
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I’m a child of the 80s, and I was only 13 when the original “Karate Kid” came out. Back then, it was criticized for being a teenage version of “Rocky,” and that wasn’t an inaccurate statement. Ultimately, it was an excellent coming-of-age story that still rings true and holds up today.
Now the film has been revamped with Jaden Smith in the lead. In this version, Dre (Smith) moves with his mother to Beijing, where he faces a budding young romance and bullies at school. When Dre meets the mysterious Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), he is mentored in the art of kung fu, eventually facing his enemies in a martial arts tournament.
The first thing you might notice – aside from the relocation of the story from the Southern California Valley to mainland China – is that the film has nothing to do with karate, which is a Japanese martial art that originated in Okinawa. Because Jackie Chan is an expert in kung-fu, the film should really be called “The Kung-Fu Kid.” (This was, incidentally, the working title but has only been retained for release in China, South Korea and Japan… basically the places where the people would be cheesed off at such a blatant disregard for cultural accuracy.)
In the grand scheme of things, calling this film “The Karate Kid” doesn’t necessarily change the quality of the film, but rather it reveals the motivations behind it. This movie was not made to honor or respect the original. It was made to cash in on a pre-existing albeit inaccurate name and give a headlining role to the child of the Hollywood elite.
Word is that Will Smith became involved in this remake so it could be a vehicle for his son Jaden, and that’s the film’s core problem. The star and the title are more important than making a good movie, and too many things are bent to fit these elements, causing the film to suffer.
I don’t have a problem with Jaden Smith. I just saw him as unnecessary and shoehorned into the existing (and far superior) story. He’s not a bad actor, but he only has two other films under his belt, one of which (“The Pursuit of Happyness”) he spends the entire movie literally in his father’s shadow with few lines and little to do. The other movie was “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” and we all know what a mess that was.
Maybe with a few more years experience (without getting roles handed to him simply because of his ancestry), Jaden Smith might become a star. Otherwise, he’s just going to turn into a faded carbon copy of his father’s most annoying acting cliches. In general, he is fine through about half of “The Karate Kid.” The rest of the time, it feels like the director handed him a stack of Will Smith movies and told him, “Just act like your pop.”
By casting Smith, the movie had to be retrofit for a twelve-year-old main character. This just plain doesn’t work as well as the original movie featuring high school students. The twelve-year-old love story and subsequent jealousy is awkward and not very believable. Neither Smith nor his bullies are physically imposing. And as much fun as it was to watch the teens in 1984’s “The Karate Kid” get the snot beat out of them, it’s a bit disturbing watching it happen at the hands of tweens better suited for an episode of “Hannah Montana.”
Beyond these changes, the film boasts a bloated 140-minute running time, which is 15 minutes longer than the original. There are plenty of scenes that could be cut, but it seems that producers Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith stood over the director’s shoulder more than once, insisting that scenes be retained because their son’s doing such a great job. Remember that scene in Judd Apatow’s masturbatory “Funny People” featuring his daughter singing “Memory” from “Cats”? Well, now imagine two hours and twenty minutes of that, and you’ve got an idea of what “The Karate Kid” is.
This new version isn’t terrible, but it’s a worse film than the original in every sense. Every punch it throws is much weaker than what we saw in 1984.