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THE KARATE KID

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, March 22, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Believe it or not, it’s been (gulp!) 35 years since ‘The Karate Kid’ was initially released, so Fathom Events and Cinemark Theaters are celebrating with big-screen showings on Sunday, March 31, and Tuesday, April 2. Here’s my review, published June 24, 1984, in the Deseret News.

“The Karate Kid” begins as just another formula coming-of-age picture, with likable, but wimpish Ralph Macchio as a transplanted New Jersey kid having so much trouble adjusting to life in Los Angeles that he becomes the school whipping boy for a gang of karate-trained toughs.

But then a wonderful thing happens. The film steadily veers into another direction, and a good chunk becomes devoted to Macchio’s growing relationship with the old Japanese maintenance man (Pat Morita) in his apartment building.

Once that begins, “The Karate Kid” blossoms into a delightful relationship picture that is warm and humorous, as Morita becomes a father figure, training young Macchio in martial arts while teaching him about life along the way.

     

    Ralph Macchio, left, Pat Morita, 'The Karate Kid'

Oh yes, there is the obligatory “Rocky”-style showdown as the film’s climax, a device I suppose is necessary, but which tends to pull the film back into its formula origins again.

Despite that, however, this is a thoroughly enjoyable feel-good movie and the screen chemistry between Macchio and Morita is very strong.

For Morita this is the role of a lifetime, and he plays it in a very low-key, dignified manner, perfect for the character. Pruning bonsai trees, he philosophizes in short, curt phrases. Reluctantly taking Macchio in for karate training, he emphasizes the art, playing down the violence. And eventually, he and Macchio seem more like father and son than teacher and pupil.

Morita has been around as a character actor on TV and in movies for years, but this is by far his best — and perhaps his largest — role. He’s wonderful, and we can only hope it opens new vistas for him in the future.

     

Martin Kove, left, Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, 'The Karate Kid'

Macchio is loaded with screen charm and handles his role very well. He’s never so much a wimp that we loose empathy with him, and he projects enough innocence that he seems like a real kid — something we don’t get in movies very often anymore.

The rest of the cast is good, too, though some of the supporting roles are steeped in stereotypes — the evil karate instructor (dressed in black no less) who leads his boys to victory by hook and crook, the ineffective mother who cares but doesn’t seem to do much, the wealthy girlfriend whose parents are snobs, etc.

But there are many well-written and well-directed moments in “The Karate Kid,” and the two lead players manage to transcend the film’s weaker moments.

Rated PG for violence and profanity, “The Karate Kid” is a thoroughly entertaining film that parents and kids can enjoy equally for a change.