The Karate Kid (PG)
Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
'Karate! Kung fu! Whatever!" says Sherry Parker, single mom of the "karate kid." Exactly! Who cares what the Asian ass-kicking is called. The important thing is that the cute little American kid will teach those Chinese ignoramuses a thing or two about their culture. Stupid foreigners!
It's true. Jaden (son-of-Will) Smith is the adorable and small-for-his-age 12-year-old Dre Parker, who moves with his mother (Taraji P. Henson) from Detroit to Beijing because, well, that's how floundering U.S. car companies are dealing with their industry's collapse: They transfer employees to China.
Instantly — no, really, the minute they land — Dre is getting beat up by teenage Chinese bullies led by the horrifically one-note Cheng (Zhenwei Wang), because Dre has the nerve to like violin-playing Meiying (Wenwen Han).
Dre gets a crapload of crap beaten out of him, to the point it begins to grow uncomfortable: Do people actually want to see a little kid take this kind of thrashing? Yet director Harald Zwart seems to enjoy making sure we know just how much physical abuse this boy is taking. Maybe he figures we like abuse after sitting through his Pink Panther 2.
Dre would like to learn some proper kung fu for self-defense, but apparently there is only one kung fu school in Beijing, and coincidentally, it's the same place Cheng is a student. Also, it's a bad school because the mean-faced instructor is teaching Cheng and his bully friends a sort of cruel fu. So Dre has absolutely no choice but to learn karate! kung fu! whatever! from Jackie Chan, who is the maintenance man in Dre and Mom's shabby apartment building.
About 12 hours into this cup of weak tea, Chan finally gets to be Jackie Chan™ — instead of fixer of the shower in Dre's apartment — by beating up Cheng and his friends. Which is sorta sad. I know Chan is getting old, but kung fu-ing kids?
Another hour later the plot actually starts, when Chan agrees to train Dre by nagging him to pick up his jacket and telling him things like, "Everything is kung fu." Of course, this isn't actually reflected in the film, but it sounds good. After a few hours more, we learn why Chan is so sad (though we hadn't noticed he was sad prior to this). Maybe screenwriters Christopher Murphey and Robert Mark Kamen (who wrote 1984's Karate Kid script) suddenly realized the film wasn't padded enough, and added this detour to reach their goal of ensuring the movie is 187 hours long.
Anyway, the score swells obnoxiously to let you know an emotional epiphany has been reached. And then comes the training montage — with all the Rocky-style stuff you'd expect, except the consumption of raw eggs — at which point you realize, damn, there's gotta be at least another half hour to go.
And there is. But don't worry: Chan will enunciate the moral of the movie, in case you hadn't already been kicked in the face with it, and then Dre will repeat it back at the appropriate moment, for audience members who've awakened from their naps. It's something about getting back on a horse, except it sounds more Chinesey. Eventually, Dre will make certain that Cheng and his mean teacher understand that their cruel fu is contrary to Chinese fortune-cookie wisdom. Go America!
The striking colors and textures are reminiscent of Southern Colorado and New Mexico. Lovely work.