Swank is The Next Karate Kid
I openly admit that "The Karate Kid" and the first sequel are some of my favourite movies although by the third movie I felt the story of Daniel and Mr. Miyagi had runs it's course. So I was surprised when a fourth "Karate Kid" movie came out and even more surprised when I heard that Ralph Macchio was being dispatched with and being replaced with the lissom and toothy Hilary Swank. Despite obvious attempts to re-invigorate the flagging franchise with the fresh blood, sadly "The Next Karate Kid" turns out to be nothing more than a thinly disguised rehash of the original storyline.
At a ceremony to commemorate the efforts of Japanese soldiers who fought in the US Army, Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita - Honeymoon in Vegas) learns that the widow of his commanding officer is struggling to look after her grand daughter Julie (Hilary Swank - P.S. I Love You) since the death of her parents. Promising to help, Mr. Miyagi steps in to not only try and help the troublesome teen to see that the loss of her parents was not her Grandmothers fault, but also to teach her karate so she can deal with the High School police who lead by Col. Dugan (Michael Ironside - Total Recall) are bullying her.
The trouble is that by now, in what is essentially a fourth movie in the franchise, the common theme of Mr. Miyagi dispensing sage advice to a young pupil is too predictable, we've seen it before in the first three movies and although we have a new pupil nothing has changed. As is expected the pupil has issues with a group of bullies and Mr. Miyagi teaches karate whilst giving her important life lessons. Sadly there appears to be no attempt to stray from the formula and this alone is the movies downfall let alone various elements which feel either seriously out of place or just padding to make "The Next Karate Kid" appear more complex than it really is.
To give "The Next Karate Kid" a bit of credit, by making Mr. Miyagi have to relate to a moody teenage girl is a much better idea than just bringing back Daniel for a fourth time. But even though it gives the movie a slightly different tone, one of being more comical, it does all become far too obvious. The minute you are introduced to Julie and the awkward nature of Mr. Miyagi around a young lady you can guess that there will be a scene where he inadvertently walks in on her in a state of undress, plus the whole prom scenario with Miyagi going dress shopping is pretty cringe worthy. In fact this change of character actually makes this fourth movie more comical and at times it feels like it's starting to parody itself.
What also fails to work is that the chemistry which had been built up in the relationship between Daniel and Mr. Miyagi is of course not present this time round and even by the end of the movie there didn't really feel like a relationship between Julie and Mr. Miyagi had formed. They certainly tried to include enough scenes to try and show that a mentor/pupil bond was forming but sadly that magical element was missing.
Adding to the criticism is that for the first time it felt like that this Karate Kid movie was so weak on script that they resorted to unnecessary padding. What I mean is, we have Julie and Mr. Miyagi heading off to a monastery where we are introduced to a quirky bunch of monks. This alone wouldn't be so bad except that later on in the movie we get a scene which has no relevance to the main story that features those same monks doing a bit of Zen bowling. Yes it's a humorous scene but it is just padding to bulk out a movie and distract from the numerous short fallings in the storyline. It's not just the monks which feel like padding and there are various other elements to the movie where things have been included with the sole purpose of filling out the slim storyline.
But what has to be one of the most questionable elements of "The Next Karate Kid" is the bad guys which are bullying Julie. Firstly this group of high school students look far too old to still be in education and they are far too nasty for this sort of movie. If blowing up a car and beating up a girl wasn't bad enough one scene even motions towards that they would take advantage of Julie sexually. Sorry but for a movie series which is aimed at a teenage audience this sort of bad guy/ bully is not needed and doesn't feel real. Even the manic Dugan who is in charge of this high school force and incites them to hurt people, instead of protecting them is majorly out of place.
As for performances well sadly the great Pat Morita doesn't fair so well this time round. Partly down to a poor script and partly down to the fact that we have been here before there is nothing new or really interesting about Mr. Miyagi to make us really sit up and pay attention. Plus of course with out his long term partner Ralph Macchio there seems to be something very missing from his character, which is the surrogate father/child relationship that is not re-created with Julie. Talking of Julie well despite not being Hilary Swanks finest performance she is probably the best thing about the movie. Whilst other characters don't make the impact to make their characters believable Swank does a fair job in getting us to empathise with her.
What this all boils down to is that honestly, "The Next Karate Kid" is not a patch on the first two movies and probably ranks just below the pretty poor third outing. Despite trying a couple of new things to re-invigorate the franchise all it ends up being is a poor rehash of what's gone before and at times ends up parodying itself a little too much for my liking.