The Karate Kid Series
The Karate Kid (June 14/10)
Predictable yet satisfying, The Karate Kid follows streetwise teen Daniel Larusso (Ralph Macchio) as he arrives in sunny Los Angeles with his mother (Randee Heller's Lucille) and almost immediately finds himself the target of callous bullies (led by William Zabka's smug Johnny Lawrence). Daniel's initial inclination is to simply avoid Johnny and his obnoxious cronies, yet - after learning that he shares a building with an aging karate master (Pat Morita's Mr. Miyagi) - the scrappy high schooler agrees to participate in a karate tournament with his blonde nemesis. It's a straight-forward premise that's initially employed to entertaining effect by John G. Avildsen, as the director, working from Robert Mark Kamen's screenplay, instantly transforms Daniel into a sympathetic figure by emphasizing the character's fish-out-of-water status - with Macchio's personable performance effectively perpetuating the film's laid-back atmosphere (and this is to say nothing of Daniel's appealing friendship with Elisabeth Shue's Ali). There's little doubt, however, that the movie suffers from a serious case of overlength that dulls its impact even in its earliest stages, as the 126 minute running time guarantees that virtually every aspect of the proceedings inevitably wears out its welcome - with the progressively tedious training sequences certainly standing out as the most egregious example of this. It's a testament to the performances and to the palpable chemistry between Daniel and Mr. Miyagi that The Karate Kid remains watchable even through its overtly needless stretches, while the involving and genuinely exciting finale, in which Daniel faces off against his persecutor, ensures that the movie concludes on an unexpectedly (yet appropriately) rousing note - which effectively cements the film's place as a disappointingly uneven piece of work that could've benefited from some judicious editing.
The Karate Kid Part II (June 22/10)
About on the same level as its watchable yet uneven predecessor, The Karate Kid Part II follows Ralph Macchio's Daniel LaRusso as he accompanies mentor Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) to Japan after the older man's father falls ill - with trouble ensuing as Miyagi is confronted by a nemesis (Danny Kamekona's Sato) dating back to his adolescence. It's not terribly surprising to note that The Karate Kid Part II suffers from an almost oppressively deliberate pace that often prevents one from wholeheartedly connecting with the material, as screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen places an ongoing emphasis on repetitive and downright needless elements that effectively exacerbate the movie's sluggish atmosphere. There's subsequently little doubt that the film is only truly engaging in fits and starts, with the performances and the irresistible chemistry between the protagonists certainly going a long way towards sustaining the viewer's less-than-consistent interest. It's also worth noting that The Karate Kid Part II has admittedly been peppered with a few unexpectedly entertaining interludes - ie Daniel exposes his douchebag bully's dishonest trading system - yet it's just as clear that the movie suffers from an incredible lull in the buildup to its final battle (which only confirms the film's place as a seriously overlong piece of work). And while that climactic fight is undeniably quite enthralling, The Karate Kid Part II ultimately comes off as a rather pointless sequel that just barely squeaks by based on the charm of its two leads.
The Karate Kid Part III (June 24/10)
The unevenness of The Karate Kid movies reaches its peak in The Karate Kid Part III, as the film suffers from the various problems that plagued its predecessors (ie overlength, padded-out sequences, etc) to such an extent that there's ultimately very little here that genuinely works. The storyline follows Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) as he's essentially forced into defending his title from the first movie's pivotal tournament, as his nemesis from that film, Martin Kove's John Kreese, has embarked on a campaign of revenge that's designed to leave both Daniel and Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) publicly humiliated. The relatively promising nature of the movie's vengeance-themed plot is effectively squandered by director John G. Avildsen and screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen, with the unreasonably deliberate pace compounded by an ongoing emphasis on attributes of a decidedly less-than-subtle nature. The most obvious example of this is surely Thomas Ian Griffith's hilariously over-the-top turn as Kreese's enthusiastic henchman, as the actor transforms his character into a moustache-twirling villain who says things like, "I'll make them suffer; when I think they've suffered enough, then I start with the pain!" The underwhelming atmosphere is compounded by the consistent inclusion of overlong and downright irrelevant sequences (ie a 10 minute interlude in which Daniel and a friend attempt to retrieve a precariously-placed bonsai tree), which cements The Karate Kid Part III's place as a sporadically watchable yet wholeheartedly needless endeavor (with the touching friendship between Daniel and Mr. Miyagi standing as the film's one overtly positive element).
The Next Karate Kid (June 24/10)
Though perhaps a mild improvement over its immediate predecessor, The Next Karate Kid is nevertheless a weak sequel that boasts few compelling attributes aside from Pat Morita's expectedly stirring turn as Mr. Miyagi. The film, which picks up several years after the events of the third installment, follows Miyagi as he agrees to mentor a sullen teenager (Hilary Swank's Julie Pierce) who's been acting out since the death of her parents, with the movie subsequently (and primarily) detailing the mentor/protégé relationship that ensues between the two disparate individuals. As expected, The Next Karate Kid has been infused with a host of time-wasting elements (ie Miyagi teaches Julie how to dance, Miyagi and Julie are visited by a group of quirky monks, etc) designed to compensate for the thin storyline - with the decidedly far-from-enthralling atmosphere exacerbated by a pace that's almost excessively deliberate. There is, as a result, never a point at which the viewer is able to work up any real enthusiasm or interest in the characters' exploits, which is undoubtedly rather disappointing given the strength of the performances and the inevitable confrontation that closes the proceedings. The end result is a repetitive sequel that seems unlikely to appeal to either fans of the series or newcomers to the Karate Kid universe, with the film's most egregious failing undoubtedly its refusal to update the viewer on just what happened to Ralph Macchio's character.