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No need for this kung fu fighting

by Tyler Wilson
| June 18, 2010 9:00 PM

Like most children of the 1980s, I consider the original "Karate Kid" to be a classic. While not exactly "Citizen Kane," it was one of those VHS tapes in the house that got more play than the entire Disney library.

So imagine the skepticism I had walking into the new "Karate Kid," this one starring 12-year-old Jaden Smith as Dre, a Detroit kid uprooted to China after his mother (Taraji P. Henson) gets a new job. Dre goes shooting some b-ball outside the school, when a couple of guys, who are up to no good, start making trouble in his neighborhood.

Luckily, martial arts master Jackie Chan is the apartment maintenance man. No moving to Bel Air for this Smith.

New "Karate Kid" has a few noticeable changes: 1) The movie is about kung-fu and not karate; 2) The locale switch, providing gorgeous imagery of China's most iconic landmarks; and 3) The disappointing exclusion of the classic Joe Esposito hit, "You're the Best Around."

Other than that, the film is plotted almost exactly like the original, yet somehow the film clocks in at a bloated 2 hours, 20 minutes. Less than 10 minutes involve Jackie Chan doing any of his signature fight choreography.

With no adult bad guys to beat up, Chan is forced to do something he rarely attempts: Act. Chan is surprisingly up the challenge, making his Mr. Han a worthy successor to Pat Morita's Mr. Miyagi. He nails almost every emotional beat, including the mentor's heartbreaking backstory.

Jaden Smith doesn't have the screen presence of his famous father yet, but he's not bad playing a lazy 12-year-old with an apparent handicap for hanging his jacket on coat racks. His performance works better when anchored from the work of Chan or Henson (terrific in an underwritten role). He struggles in scenes when he's courting the cutie music prodigy or when being harassed by the bullies.

The build-up to the big karate, err, kung-fu tournament is competently handled by director Harald Zwart ("The Pink Panther 2"), and the glossy scenery on display makes one want to book a flight to China immediately. Pity the director got the terrible idea of shooting most of the tournament in shaky, "Bourne" style incoherence. At least parents won't have to worry about their kids seeing too much violence.

Fanboy nitpicks aside, the new "Karate Kid" follows the original story so closely that there isn't too much to complain about. It's ultimately a faithful and entertaining remake. It's just completely unnecessary. And so my heart still belongs to Daniel-san.

Grade: B -

Ticket Stubs is sponsored by the Hayden Cinema Six Theater. Tyler Wilson can be reached at twilson@cdapress.com. Read more reviews and pop culture commentary at www.NormdogEntertainment.com.

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