Eighties classic ages poorly
The latest addition to this trend is the 1984 family-drama “The Karate Kid,” whose original legacy has been diluted by umpteen sequels (one including the talents of Hillary Swank) and a horrid remake starring the Little Prince of Bel-Air, Jaden Smith. At the time of its release, “The Karate Kid” received a glowing review from Roger Ebert and drew favorable comparisons to director John G. Avildsen’s speech-impeded “Rocky.” Shown to a middling crowd during a Sunday matinee, it’s clear that although certain chunks of the action remain ingrained in fond memories, “The Karate Kid” fails to pack the punch that its title suggests. Welcome to 1984 California. Did you bring your tape deck?
In true ’80s-flick fashion, “The Karate Kid” is a cherished underdog story, propelled by the pre-Nirvana teenage angst channeled by the boyish Ralph Macchio. He plays the troubled Daniel LaRusso, the new kid on the block hailing from New Jersey, who longs for the affection of the first girl to give him attention, the lovely cheerleader Ali (Elisabeth Shue). But there’s a roadblock in his bike path, as Ali’s ex-boyfriend happens to be the insufferably tough Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), proud member of the Cobra Kai karate clan and the most hardcore group of misfits too young to outgrow Schwinn two-wheelers. One black eye and a string of broken New Jersey drama later, Daniel begins badly teaching himself self-defense.
The nucleus of the action surrounds the unassuming Mr. Miyagi — the saving grace of this movie, Pat Morita — who gives Daniel karate lessons masquerading as manual labor. Their relationship is rocky — no doubt a nod to the director’s better effort — but later blossoms into an amicable father-son quasi-relationship that stumbles on silver screens for two more sequels. Set against a far-dated soundtrack, the vision quest of our young hero culminates in a final triumphant battle against Cobra Kai’s finest, and the well-deserved approval of the town that labeled him an outcast follows suit.
If this plot sounds familiar, it’s because it’s been done before in far better films with fewer cringe-worthy moments. In a landmark scene, Daniel struggles to chuck his bike into a dumpster after a fight with Johnny. Choked with tears, he fights off the warm embrace of his mother, whining about their move to the Golden State. I’m sure it hit home when I was 9, but it waxes annoying a decade later. I wish it would “wax off” instead.