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The Karate Kid (Harald Zwart, 2010)


Harald Zwart’s remake of the 1980s “classic” The Karate Kid begins as predictable, surprisingly pleasurable family entertainment. Its early scenes reasonably approximate a twelve year old’s point of view. Moving from home marks the end of the world.  A thirteen-hour flight is impossibly long. The entire world seems a conspiracy against personal happiness. Because the film that follows stretches well past the two hour mark, however, this limited story wears out its welcome as it grinds across the screen, effectively rendering any initial audience goodwill moot by the time it comes to its predictable climax.


Featuring Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan in the roles popularized by Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita, this remake hews closely to the original’s template, although both student and trainer are a few years younger this time out. In this yarn, young Dre (Smith) overcomes bullies and learns to fit in with a new group of friends by learning martial arts from a reticent master (Chan) with emotional issues of his own. Because the plot is so well-worn, execution is crucial. Unfortunately, it’s botched. Music cues are too aggressive and on the nose, and young star Jaden Smith is not a compelling enough screen presence to anchor a supposedly inspirational story. It’s tough to buy this kid as an underdog when we’re saddled with the knowledge that the original’s plot structure has been carried over wholesale, that there was extreme nepotism involved in casting him as the lead here, and when he’s such an unappealing little screen presence.


Really, though, the biggest problems lie with the scale. This version of The Karate Kid seems too inflated with its own sense of importance. Set in China, it makes sure to spend time trotting its cast to cultural celebrations, The Great Wall, and The Forbidden City. The opening forty minutes, in which we see Dre’s difficulties adjusting to China, are particularly bloated, and set the tone for what is to follow. So, as The Karate Kid unfolds, it does so with familiarity (“paint the fence” becomes “jacket on, jacket off”) and sloth. There are moments of pleasure scattered about, such as in a scene that shows Jackie Chan trouncing a pack of little kids, but they are the exception in an inspirational movie that has little inspiration to call its own.



Jeremy Heilman