+ + + + + + +
The Karate Kid (1984)
June 22, 1984
SCREEN 'KARATE KID,' BANE OF BULLIES
By Janet Maslin
Published: June 22, 1984
A large part of ''The Karate Kid'' - the best part, really - seems to be taking place inside a fortune cookie. It is here, in the serene realm of Oriental wisdom, Hollywood-style, that a teen- ager named Daniel (Ralph Macchio) is taught lesson after lesson about life. His instructor is an elderly man named Mr. Miyagi, played by Noriyuki (Pat) Morita, who is first seen trying to catch flies with a pair of chopsticks. Throughout the film, Mr. Miyagi sustains a scene-stealing, if hokey, eccentricity.
Mr. Miyagi easily becomes a perfect father figure for Daniel, thanks to the old man's patience, understanding and seemingly infinite knowledge. His incredible command of karate is another plus as far as Daniel is concerned, since the boy is newly transplanted from Newark to California, and frequently finds himself being savaged by large, affluent blond bullies who dress like Michael Jackson. Mr. Miyagi teaches him to defend himself and, along the way, to become a man.
''The Karate Kid,'' which opens today at the Ziegfeld and other theaters, has the makings of a genuinely heart-warming two-man drama, with Mr. Morita a charming cut-up and Mr. Macchio gently likable in the Robby Benson role. But neither the director, John G. Avildsen, nor the screenwriter, Robert Mark Kamen, is content to leave well enough alone. Their film is full of extras, from the supporting characters who barely have anything to do to the Bill Conti music that blasts annoyingly through the final climactic fight scene. Even deleting the fun-in-the-sun teen-age montages that crop up periodically would improve the film greatly, or at least cut down on its penchant for wasting time.
Since ''The Karate Kid'' is essentially a fairy tale, Mr. Avildsen's broad directorial touches often shatter its gentle mood. Yet the bullies are shown to be unbelievably rotten (their leader is a drill sergeant-type karate instructor, who makes his students do pushups on their knuckles). The score is pushy and loud. And the extras, like the modelly looking parents of Daniel's rather superfluous young sweetheart, are made of wood. The only sections of the film that really work are those concerning Daniel and his mentor, and even this relationship is taken too far. Long after we know of their affection for each other, long after Daniel and Mr. Miyagi know this too, the film includes a dreadful drunk scene in which the old man confesses several key facts about his past and then shows his Medal of Honor.
When karate is not being treated as the latest excuse for an ''Impossible Dream'' success story, and when the film is able to find more in Daniel's martial-arts career than pure ''Rocky''-esque competitiveness, ''The Karate Kid'' exhibits warmth and friendly, predictable humor, its greatest assets. Midway through the story, an obvious but highly effective sequence has Mr. Miyagi saddling Daniel with one herculean home-repair chore after another, tasks that have no apparent connection with his karate training. It is irresistible, if not surprising, to watch this culminate in the boy's angry outburst, the old man's quiet bemusement and the revelation that painting, sanding and waxing have plenty to do with karate after all.
''The Karate Kid'' is rated PG (''Parental Guidance Suggested''). It contains some strong language and mild violence.
Maturing Martially THE KARATE KID, directed by John G. Avildsen; written by Robert Mark Kamen; director of photography, James Crabe; edited by Bud Smith, Walt Mulconery and Mr. Avildsen; music by Bill Conti; produced by Jerry Weintraub; released by Columbia Pictures. At the Ziegfeld, Avenue of the Americas and 54th Street; Baronet, Third Avenue and 59th Street. Running time: 126 minutes. This film is rated PG. DanielRalph Macchio MiyagiNoriyuki (Pat) Morita AliElisabeth Shue KreeseMartin Kove LucilleRandee Heller JohnnyWilliam Zabka BobbyRon Thomas TommyRob Garrison DutchChad McQueen JimmyTony O'Dell FreddyIsrael Juarbe Mr. MillsWilliam Bassett JerryLarry B. Scott