It’s true what they say– the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. For the better part of two decades, we’ve seen Will Smith evolve from the Fresh Prince to Ali to his (essentially) one-man show, I Am Legend. Two Oscar nominations later, he now gets a chance to let his son shine, as the executive producer (along with wife Jada) in the The Karate Kid.
Jaden showed glimmers of promise in 2006’s The Pursuit of Happyness, but The Karate Kid is his show, from start to finish, and he hits a home run as Dre Parker. Flashing several of his dad’s mannerisms and facial expressions, he also shows off heaps of talent, and his fresh-faced innocence helps make Dre instantly likeable.
Also great is Jackie Chan in the Pat Morita/Mr. Miyagi role (as Mr. Han, the condo maintenance guy). Though he lacks the wry sense of humor that helped earn Morita an Oscar nod, Chan’s quiet, no-nonsense demeanor is nevertheless a welcome change from his usual over-the-top performances.
The Karate Kid is based very faithfully on the 1984 original, with the exception of Dre and his mom’s relocation to China instead of L.A. And it’s a choice that instantly transforms The Karate Kid from its original high school underdog plot into almost an epic motion picture, augmented by travelogue-like panoramas of Beijing and the Great Wall.
While stunningly beautiful, the result, frankly, bogs the movie down a bit. Clocking in at almost 2 hours and 20 minutes, The Karate Kid feels about a half-hour too long. The gritty, more raw feel of the original is gone, replaced with a sprawling, more meandering vibe, complete with a sweeping score by Titanic‘s James Horner.
The other issue, sorry to say, is the kids’ ages. The idea that Dre is the victim of tween-aged bullies who are being taught to show no mercy and to break opponents’ legs in competition seems more brutal than it did even with the late-teenagers in the original. That, coupled with the fact that Dre (at the ripe old age of 12) is romancing a local violin student, might make you wish the filmmakers had held off for just a few more years.
Despite these shortcomings, though, The Karate Kid is still better than average and is very much worth seeing (if only for Jaden’s performance.)
Papa Will has plenty to be proud of.