Written by Hombre Divertido
Set in present-day China, young Dre (Jaden Smith) is forced to adapt to a new environment after his mother (Taraji P. Henson) is relocated from Detroit by her employer. During his first day in China, Dre manages to make an American friend (Luke Carberry), meet the apartment handyman (Jackie Chan), catch the eye of a local girl (Wenwen Han), and gets beat up by the neighborhood bully (Zhenwei Wang).
Yes; “his mother”, “American friend”, “apartment handyman”, “local girl”, and “neighborhood bully” are all accurate, and the titles are as developed as the one-dimensional characters and performances in this film, which is ultimately its downfall.
The supporting actors in The Karate Kid are given little to do, while the lead actors, who are given room to stretch their thespian limbs, land extremely limited blows. Jaden Smith gives a reasonably enjoyable performance, but in many scenes, his inexperience is evident. He has managed to learn to deliver a well-timed, poignant look when needed, but the skill of doing the same verbally with any consistency still eludes the young actor. Even more disappointing in the film is the performance of Jackie Chan, though ultimately the responsibility for this falls on the writers and director. Chan has proven over his career that he posesses the ability to display not only energy on screen, but excellent comedic timing as well. In The Karate Kid Chan is relegated to lumbering around and delivering one solemn line after another.
Eventually Mr. Han the Handyman manages to teach The Karate Kid enough kung fu to defeat all the local kids, who grew up learning the art form, in a tournament and thus earn their respect. Unfortunately this takes well over two hours and plods along at a pace that seems as painful as trying to sit through an episode of the 1989 Karate Kid Saturday-morning cartoon series.
The comparison of this film to the 1984 is inevitable, and the 2010 version fails monumentally. Though advertised by many associated with the film prior to its release as not a remake, the 2010 version follows the same story as the original too excessive detail in storytelling and dialog. In essence, all that was done was to take a familiar story and place it in an unfamiliar environment, though there are other detrimental changes as well. The roles of the supporting characters have been whittled down to stereotypes, the humor and personality have been extracted from all involved, the creative training techniques have been reduced to wardrobe changes, and the action sequences are poorly choreographed and filmed. All this was done while somehow managing to make the story longer.
We may not have liked the villains in the original film, but they were relatable. They all had names; we knew who they were and what they were about. Not so in the new release.
We loved Daniel (Ralph Macchio), Mr. Miyagi (Noriyuki 'Pat' Morita), and Mrs. Larusso (Randee Heller) in the original. They had a sense of humor. There is no humor in this new film, and the portrayal of Dre’s mother by Taraji P. Henson exceeds the level of one-dimensional annoyance established by anyone in the 1994 film The Next Karate Kid. Was Jada Pinkett Smith too busy to step in here?
Recommendation: The filmmakers should be chastised for taking the beloved, energetic, and humorous mentor Mr. Miyagi and turning him into the humorless lump Mr. Han, who does nothing but beat up twelve-year-olds, and yell “Focus!” throughout the entire climactic scene of the film.
The 2010 version of The Karate Kid is trite and manipulative storytelling at its worst. Showing us that Dre’s father is dead in the first scene of the film, and then later showing us that Mr. Han’s family was killed, in hopes of a bonding along with the characters shows little respect for the audience.
Don’t do it. Watching the original or its two sequels would be a far more pleasurable experience.
Article first published as Movie Review: The Karate Kid (2010) Loses Too Many Battles on Blogcritics.