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The Karate Kid

You don’t have to look back any further than the recently deceased Gary Coleman for an example of a performer whose life was ruined by childhood stardom. It may not be the norm—most kid actors either retire from the business or branch out into other areas—but the odds seem so stacked against it as a route to adult happiness that you have to wonder what sane parent would do that to their child. And yet here are Will Smith and wife Jada Pinkett as producers of this remake, designed to propel their son Jaden Smith into stardom. Ralph Macchio was 22 when he starred in the original in 1984; Jaden probably celebrated his 11th birthday while filming, and looks even younger. Add to that that the lad is more pretty than handsome and you have a movie that is uncomfortable in a few ways: A romantic theme seems inappropriate even if you can accept him as the character’s age of 12; and the bullying violence, which you will not be surprised to hear is more vicious than what Macchio faced, is all the more nauseating when directed at so puny a child.

Still, the audience at the screening I attended remained rapt through all two hours and 20 minutes, whooping and applauding at the finale (which, unlike the original, is not remotely believable). The original was directed by John Avildsen, who had honed his skills at playing the audience on Rocky; the remake is helmed by Harald Zwart, who directed Steve Martin in the awful Pink Panther 2 and was presumably hired because the producers figured he would take orders. The story has been relocated to China, which gives the production lots of opportunity for sight-seeing (the training sequence on the Great Wall is as inevitable as it is pointless). You may ask why they retained the title when the form of martial arts practiced in China is kung fu, not karate, but you will be a lonely voice in the theater. I have not mentioned Jackie Chan, mostly out of respect: In the mentor role that was so delightful in the hands of Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, he is rendered dour and dull by a script that never wants the camera to move too far from Master Smith. If the kids pester you to take them to it, try to interest them in a DVD of the original instead; it probably won’t work, but you’ll feel better for having made the effort.

—m. faust

Watch the trailer for The Karate Kid

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