ShoWest: The Karate Kid
Ed. note: 'Bob Esponja' is at ShoWest checking out all the movies that are screening there for JoBlo.com. Here's his latest review:
Yesterday at ShoWest, Sony hosted the world premiere of The Karate Kid, starring Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan. I was initially thinking about skipping the movie. I enjoyed the original as a kid, but I'm not a hardcore fan and haven't seen it in quite awhile. The trailers for the update didn't appeal to me, and seemed to be geared towards an even younger audience than the original.
I'm glad I went. The new film is not a great one, but the overall presentation was a lot of fun. The lights dimmed, and we were treated to a traditional Chinese dragon parade on the stage. This went on a little longer than necessary, and then, with the final hit of the drums, confetti rained down upon the audience from above.
Then the director and producers of the film, including Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, took the stage to crazy applause. It was common knowledge here at the convention that Jaden was going to be awarded with the Breakthrough Male Star of the Year award. They made a special presentation of the statuette before the film, and the young actor himself was there to receive it. His speech, which received a hearty laugh and round of applause, was, simply: "My dad wrote a speech for me, and it had lots of funny stuff in it, but I'm eleven and I'm nervous, so...thank you." It was a great moment.
So, let's talk about the movie. The story follows Dre Parker (Smith) and his single mother (Taraji P. Henson), who are moving to China because the mom has been transferred there (though we never see her at work). As you can imagine, this is difficult for Dre. Not only does he not speak the language, but there is also a bully who walks out of a Disney Channel original movie and starts giving him a hard time. The bully is friends with Mei Ying, a cute girl at Dre's school whose family is staking everything on her making it into a music academy or something. Dre falls for Mei Ying, and the bully makes it clear that he doesn't approve by frequently beating Dre up.
There is a scene where Dre spies on Mei Ying as she practices violin with her British piano teacher. This man says things like, "This isn't good enough. Your family has everything riding on this. I'm going to call your father."
For the first forty-five minutes or so, The Karate Kid plays very much like a TV movie. The acting is forced, the dialogue is on the nose (not sure if this ever improves), and the pacing is sluggish. Then Dre meets Mr. Han, the janitor in his building, who also happens to be a kung fu master (that's right - kung fu, not karate). Mr. Han is played by Jackie Chan in a restrained performance that occasionally reveals a deeper side of the actor. The chemistry between Smith and Chan is what carries the film, and it comes too late. I'm not convinced the cut we saw was final, so there's still a chance the filmmakers will wisely trim some fat from the first half of the film.
You know the rest of the story. Dre trains for a competition in which he will face the bully hitherto mentioned, and win the heart of the girl he loves. There are great scenes in The Karate Kid, and if I were twelve it would probably be my favorite movie, but the weak script and lackluster direction hold it back from really soaring. And Taraji P. Henson, who was so good in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, is horribly over the top here.
But you know what? When I saw Three Ninjas as a kid, I wasn't worrying about the dialogue or the direction. And neither were the millions of kids who flocked to the original Karate Kid. Regardless of my feelings about the movie, I think it's going to be a massive hit. And Jaden Smith is certainly worthy of his award. This kid's about to break through.