I know Ralph Macchio, and you, Jaden Smith, are no Ralph Macchio. The interminable remake of 1984's The Karate Kid manages to re-create the original, almost scene for scene, with none of its charm and resonance. Though it might appeal to younger viewers, its languid pace and nearly two-and-a-half-hour run time will leave others (and their parents) bored and occasionally scared.
The updated screenplay plays as though they simply took the original and changed a few details. Smith, the cornrowed progeny of the former Fresh Prince, plays
Daniel Dre, a teenager preteen who moves from New Jersey Detroit to California China with his single mom (Hustle & Flow's Taraji P. Henson, who deserves better than this). Dre soon finds himself bullied by the students of Cobra Kai Fighting Dragons, essentially the most sociopathic middle schoolers outside of a William Golding novel.
After several whuppings, Dre meets
Mr. Miyagi Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), a maintenance man who offers to teach him real kung fu and show up the Fighting Dragons by waxing a car repeatedly taking his jacket on and off. Then there's a big tournament and a romance with Elisabeth Shue a cute violinist.
So the new movie is almost exactly like the first film, except that the clever aspects of the original have not survived the translation. You can tell things are getting bad early on when they threaten to re-create the famous "catching flies with chopsticks" scene, only with Han whacking the fly with a swatter instead. Sure, it's different, but it's not an improvement.
The best moments from the original Karate Kid are flattened into nothing here. Instead of William Zabka's memorably Teutonic bully, we have a generic-looking Asian kid (Zhenwei Wang). Instead of the line "sweep the leg," we have "break his leg." Instead of "wax on, wax off," we have "jacket on, jacket off." Instead of Miyagi's touching backstory, we have a generic tale of an automobile accident. Hell, instead of the classic "You're the Best" on the soundtrack, there's a song by Justin Bieber. Justin Bieber.
For those who grew up with slumber party VHS screenings of The Karate Kid, this remake may well count as a crime against humanity. Certainly, there's some decent footage of Beijing, and Smith is a cute kid. But it's one thing to watch 20ish actors playing teenagers hit each other, and another to watch 11-year-olds playing 11-year-olds engage in brutal beat-downs. The fight scenes feel oddly dark and might prove too much for some kids.
But I could be wrong. At the screening I attended, the audience, mostly kids of Smith's age, applauded as Dre faced his opponents at the tournament. Perhaps the world has moved on, and this is The Karate Kid for a new generation. Or perhaps they were applauding for the same reason the disgruntled friend next to me was—because the film was almost over. You might not want to decide for yourself.