While it wasn’t the greatest film ever made, I have a lot of affection for “The Karate Kid,” the 1984 film starring Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita. It was a charming movie that, for a then 13-year-old, provided plenty of entertainment and repeat viewing once it hit cable.
When I first heard the film was getting a makeover, I admit I was a skeptic, so imagine my surprise to discover the new version (also titled “The Karate Kid” and starring Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan) was actually a delight. This is a remake that is respectful to the original material, yet also provides a new spin - with great chemistry from the two leads.
This “Karate Kid” moves the story from California to China, where 12-year-old Dre (Smith) and his mother (Taraji P. Henson) have just arrived from Detroit looking to start a new life.
Dre is immediately targeted by class bully Cheng (Zhenwei Wang) and his friends, and is picked on quite brutally.
Dre is saved during one of the attacks by Mr. Han (Chan), the apartment maintenance man who secretly is a kung fu master. Dre persuades Mr. Han to help teach him king fu so he can stand up to Cheng, leading to a climactic battle at an elite martial arts tournament.
Anyone familiar with the original should appreciate how faithful this story is to that film, following a similar story arc that should bring back memories of the original, while adding just enough to give it a fresh spin.
Location proves to be a big strength in the film, with director Harald Zwart making the most of his beautiful backdrop. Scenes in the Forbidden City and on the Great Wall help give the story authenticity, even if it aids with the lengthy 150-minute running time.
The leads are also a big strength, with Smith showing he has the acting chops of his famous parents - Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith. The 11-year-old is at ease in front of the camera, and as my wife astutely pointed out, has the natural charm and charisma that have made his dad such a success.
While Chan is no Morita, he proves to be very good as well, giving a restrained performance that is the perfect complement to Smith.
Both actors hooked me into this remake, managing to make me feel both nostalgic and surprised at the same time. This isn’t just one of the better remakes in recent memory, it’s one of the stronger big-summer releases so far.
DVD dandy of the week
This week’s DVD dandy is “Youth in Revolt” (B-), the quirky Michael Cera romantic comedy that is a strange delight - just original enough to warrant a look on home video.
Cera plays Nick, a sad-sack teenager who while on vacation meets the girl of his dreams, Sheeni (Portia Doubleday).
Convinced she would never want to be involved with such a putz, Nick creates an alter ego - the rebellious Francois, who will stop at nothing to be with Sheeni.
Your tolerance for “Youth at Revolt” may hinge on how much you can take of Cera, who is basically playing the same kind of character he played in “Juno” and “Superbad.” I found Cera to be just aloof enough to enjoy, while Doubleday proves to be a discovery as the object of Nick’s affection.
But it is the many supporting characters - including Steve Buscemi, Justin Long, Fred Willard and Zach Galifianakis - who provide “Youth in Revolt” with most of its laughs. They help lift the film above your run of the mill comedies - creating a weird and bizarre little film that is also fairly funny.
“Youth in Revolt” is rated R for sexual content, language and drug use, and is now available on DVD.
— To get sportswriter/movie reviewer Micheal Compton’s up-to-the minute thoughts on all things movies, visit his blog at mcompton.wordpress.com or his Twitter page at twitter.com/mcompton428. You can also e-mail him at email@example.com.