The Karate Kid | Screen | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

The Karate Kid

Remake lacks verve – and karate

This update-remake of the popular 1984 teen-inspirational, now relocated to China, felt like it lasted longer than the Cultural Revolution -- and featured as much heavy-handedness in indoctrinating today's young viewers to the greeting-card bromides of martial arts and the mechanics of cookie-cutter genre films. 

Not to mention highlighting the Supreme Wonderfulness of the People's Republic of China! At least a quarter of this film looks like it was lifted wholesale from a propaganda reel extolling the majesty of Chinese culture, history and geography. The modern-day Beijing that 12-year-old Dre (Jaden Smith) and his single mom move to is smog-free and simply charming: a warren of low-scale older buildings, colorful street markets, the Olympic Village and the Forbidden City. 

To thwart bullies, Dre enlists the services of a grumpy maintenance man, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), who takes the youngster through the time-honored montage of martial-arts training. This includes a trip to a gorgeous mountain temple, a tedious coat-on-coat-off exercise and some early morning workouts on the Great Wall of China.

Harald Zwart's film is overly long. (2 hours and 15 minutes, grasshopper! You must have patience of a turtle.) It's also virtually plotless, especially if you're too young to read the subtitles. Or even if you can: Much of the story makes no sense, including why there is no karate in a film called "The Karate Kid." (Dre learns kung fu.)

Jaden Smith is a cute kid, but he has no hope of carrying this film. This story doesn't call for Baby Olivier, but Smith comes off as another lightweight Hollywood product who conveys everything through flouncing and frowning. Virtually retired action star Chan gets one fight scene, but honestly, he's matched against little kids! In English, and some Mandarin, with subtitles. Starts Fri., June 11.