(On TV, May 2017) The 1984 version of The Karate Kid is such a cultural fixture that any attempt to remake it was doomed to irrelevancy. This being said, this 2010 remake does try its best, most notably but relocating the action in China where our hero involuntarily immigrates when his mom gets a new job. The change of scenery does much to renew a movie that largely recycles the original film’s structure: The look inside modern China can be interesting at times, as well as highlighting the fish-out-of-water nature of the protagonist. Unfortunately, that same basic decision does have its drawbacks: it removes the quasi-universal nature of the backdrop for American audiences (although, and this is significant, it does open it up to Chinese audiences), making it much harder to empathize with the high-school trials of the (significantly younger) protagonist. It also weakens the impact of Mister Miyagi’s teachings and makes a mush out of the protagonist’s attempts to fit in. Essentially, it transforms the universality of the first film into a very specific situation, and sabotages itself along the way. It doesn’t help that at eleven or twelve, lead actor Jaden Smith looks far too young for an archetypically teenage role. While it’s nice to see Jackie Chan in a decent American movie role, he doesn’t have much to do—far more judicious is seeing Taraji P. Henson in the “mom” role, greatly expanding the original character. To be fair, this Karate Kid remake is decently executed: anyone who hasn’t seen the 1984 film is likely to be moderately satisfied by the result. But for those pesky viewers with fresh memories of the original, this remake has too many small issues to enjoy.
(On Cable TV, May 2014) Reviews for science-fiction action thriller After Earth were downright hostile, and after seeing the result it’s not only easy to agree: it’s hard to know where to begin in reporting the on-screen disaster. It didn’t take a long time for the film to grate on my nerves: Never mind the “directed by M. Night Shyamalan” credit warning: the early scenes set in a far-future society multiply the implausibility, from window shades that don’t actually close to creatures that can (only) smell fear to some of the ugliest aesthetics imaginable. It doesn’t get much better once the plot gets in motion and that stupidity compounded by bad design lands two characters away from everything else. The script is terrible, and the direction isn’t much better: there’s little sense of energy or spectacle to the adventures of a young man racing toward survival. (Once upon a time, I defended Shyamalan’s directing skills even as his scripts worsened. Not anymore, and certainly not since The Last Airbender.) There isn’t much imagination on display regarding the features of this future earth (much of it “bigger and faster animals!”, ignoring the time required for evolution.) While it’s good to see Will Smith play a mature adult role, Jaden Smith doesn’t bring much as the lead –although it’s probably just as fair to blame both script and direction for his lack of affect. It all builds up to a snooze of a climax. Despite my own built-in liking for SF adventures, I found little to enjoy here, and considerable relief when the film ended.