FILM REVIEW: 'Karate Kid' Kicks Butt Onscreen and Off

As the new “Karate Kid” movie opens, young Dre Parker looks at the height markings he has made on the wall of his room where he’s commemorated many past events, including the death of his own father. In this box office smash, Jaden Smith plays an underdog forced to engage in a battle with a bully at school, but in real life, Smith’s new film is engaging in a battle at the box office, a battle that this delightful family film is more than ready for.

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When the new “Karate Kid” opened a few weeks ago, it came out alongside “The A-Team,” a disappointing action comedy. Many predicted that The Kid would come in second but it ended up winning the weekend, earning over $50 million dollars at the box office. In its second weekend, the sleeper held and has now earned over $100 million.

“The Karate Kid” opens with Dre and his mother readying to leave the United States for China because of his mother’s job. Dre is clearly upset about moving to a foreign country. In the plane, at his mother’s insistence, he practices his Chinese with someone who, it turns out, does not even know the language. When they move into their new home, the charismatic Dre spends time at the playground and quickly makes friends as well as enemies who bully him on the basketball court and knock him down in front of a girl he likes.

Fortunately, Dre and his mother have moved into an apartment building that employs a Kung Fu expert as the maintenance man. (Yes, it’s a stretch but an enjoyable one nonetheless.) Dre gets beat up a few more times by this nasty group of bullies, a group who are incidentally taking Kung Fu classes with a malicious instructor who likes his pupils to kick people when they’re down (literally). However, once he realizes that his maintenance man happens to be Jackie Chan (or Mr. Han, as his character is named), he asks Han to teach him how to fight. Eventually, he succeeds and Dre learns Kung Fu as he prepares to fight back against the bullies in a major tournament.

At first glance, the plot may look boring and predictable and it does have its flaws. There are a number of unnecessary plot-lines thrown into the mix for no reason whatsoever. One boring subplot involves the parents of Dre’s crush keeping her away from him. Additionally, Mr. Han’s emotional back story feels out of place when revealed late in the film. The movie also has a lot going for it.

I haven’t seen the original “Karate Kid” and can’t compare the original. I can say, though, that the reboot is the best movie I’ve seen in a while. It’s fun, lighthearted and enormously entertaining. The story is also uplifting with well-developed themes (both about fighting for yourself and respecting your parents), and the actors are well-cast. Jaden Smith is charismatic and charming, Jackie Chan’s solid, and Taraji P. Henson does excellent work as Tre’s likable mother.

Looking at recent box office receipts, it’s a nice surprise to see “The Karate Kid” overcoming its bland competition which just goes to show that there’s always room at the multiplex for family entertainment with good values.

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