When his mother is transferred to China, Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) finds himself in a strange place with no friends and no sense of belonging. When he befriends a girl at his school (Wenwen Han), he draws the ire of a group of bullies who train at a disreputable kung fu studio. Things begin to change, however, when he meets and begins to train with Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), the building's maintenance man. Soon he enrolls in a kung fu tournament, setting up the inevitable confrontation between himself and his tormentors.
First, the very brief positives. "Karate Kid" has solid action and some pretty cool fight scenes. Jackie Chan gives an admirable and quite believable performance as the pseudo Mr. Miyagi. In some ways this might be the perfect role for Chan as it combines his likability in an element he is comfortable in without exposing and/or exasperating his numerous flaws as an actor. And there are a few humorous lines (emphasis on the "few").
Now, the negative. I've got a lot of problems with this thing but I'm going to keep it to three short points.
1. "The Karate Kid" is not about karate; it's about kung fu. On numerous occasions the characters make references to Dre learning kung fu and yet it never seemed to dawn on anyone involved in the filmmaking process that maybe a movie called "The Karate Kid" should be about karate. Call me crazy but doesn't that kind-of-sort-of make sense?
2. Jaden Smith and the rest of the kiddie cast are WAY too young for this film. Dre is a 12 year old played by a kid who looks like an 8 year old but operating in situations that are suited for a 14 or 15 year old. News flash, Hollywood: no one wants to see 12 year olds kissing. It's weird and creepy and terribly off-putting. And it's not just the awkward romance. There's extensive training that no pre-adolescent could handle, some "witty" repartee that doesn't land, and at one point Jackie Chan puts a beat down on a group of 11 year olds. There's something wrong with that, isn't there? All told, it comes across as if Will Smith (whom I love, but still...) bought a script and cast his son regardless of whether it was a good fit or not.
3. This is just BARELY a remake. Remakes are always a risky proposition because if you get too close to the original thing it feels unnecessary and if you stray too far away from a beloved inspiration, people feel it's an insult to the original. "Karate Kid" takes a bit from the original and adds some new elements but the mix just isn't right. Ultimately it comes off as a cheesy parody of a classic film that is treasured by most Americans born between 1975 and 1990. "Jacket on, jacket off" is embarrassingly feeble compared to "Wax on, wax off" and Dre Parker would crumble at the hands of Daniel Son. What I mean to say is, this feels like someone wrote a script and someone else thought, "If we titled this "The Karate Kid" and made some vague references to the original, we could make a ton of cash off this thing!" And that's exactly what happened.
When you put all of that together, you get a below average film that fails to inspire. Not a terrible experience but certainly not the enjoyable trip down memory lane I was hoping for.