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Review: The Karate Kid, Predators, My One and Only & Knight and Day

By December 30, 2010No Comments

The Karate Kid posterThe first thing to know about The Karate Kid is that there is no karate in it. This remake of the eighties favourite sends twelve-year-old hero Jaden Smith to China where they hurt people with kung fu instead. It was originally going to be called The Kung Fu Kid until someone in marketing realised certain synergistic opportunities might be missed by the less credulous target market. So there we are.

I have mixed feelings about this film. I have no great love for the original (despite adoring my occasional nickname “Daniel-san”) so am not much bothered about the updating. Director Harald Zwart managed to get my pulse going a bit faster than normal, which doesn’t happen very often these days, and there are some nice scenes that take advantage of some interesting Chinese locations. But this is basically a pre-teen Rocky with some pretty realistic smacks and I’m a little uncomfortable about that.

Smith plays young Dre, plucked from his native Detroit by his mother (Taraji P. Henson) who has been transferred to Beijing for work. He’s sour and surly, of course, as they tend to be at that age, but things get worse when he meets the neighborhood bullies who proceed to make his life hell. Luckily, the lonely building supervisor (a haggard Jackie Chan) takes him under his wing and gives him a chance to take his revenge at the big kung fu championships.

If it turns out that young Smith can sing too, he may well become the biggest star the world has ever seen — he’s got everything else — and I look forward to seeing his career develop. Sadly, though, The Karate Kid is a film that tells young people that they can solve their problems using violence and I just can’t get behind that. (Sidebar: one of the young people sitting behind me at the Karate Kid screening had never heard of Jaden’s dad, Will Smith. How fragile is fame.)

Predators posterWhen one is confronted by giant, invisible, green-blooded, sadistic aliens of course, violence is a much more reasonable response so it’s lucky that the ne’er-do-wells and miscreants in Predators have some skills in that area. A bunch of hoodlums, mercenaries and assorted meanies are plucked from Earth, doped, then parachuted in to the surface of a jungle planet where they are hunted by the afore-mentioned Predators for sport.

Adrien Brody is the alpha-of-alpha male who works out what’s going on, but even he is powerless against these brutes until he gets some help from Laurence Fishburne — the mysterious sole survivor of a previous hunting expedition.

Respectably true to its own internal logic and intentions, Predators does a decent job of re-booting what had become a ridiculous franchise but the dreadlocked antagonists themselves are a lot less scary the more you see of them.

My One and Only posterDestined for undeserving arthouse oblivion because of the Film Festival is a sweet little coming-of-age story called My One and Only, which turns out to be about the famously tanned Hollywood star George Hamilton. When his mother (Renée Zellweger) discovers his dance band leader father (Kevin Bacon) in flagrante with a showgirl she impetuously, but justifiably, empties the bank, buys a car and takes her two sons on a cross-country odyssey to find a new husband.

English director Richard Loncraine achieves the miraculous and manages to wind Zellweger down to a bearable level and there are good performances too from a supporting cast that includes TV stalwarts Chris Noth (SATC’s Mr Big), Eric McCormack (“Will & Grace”) and Steven Weber (“Wings” and “Studio 60”).

Knight and Day posterThere was a time when James Mangold was going to be that rare thing these days — a Hollywood auteur. Films like Heavy (1995), the great Cop Land (1996) and Girl, Interrupted (1999) signaled that rare thing these days — a personal vision. His latest film though, Knight and Day, is the very definition of hackery — a giant budget, high concept, star vehicle in which every distinguishing factor is polished by focus groups, studio execs and the star’s “people” until nothing interesting remains.

Cameron Diaz is an ordinary citizen (a rebuilder of classic cars in fact) who bumps into handsome Tom Cruise on a flight that he is about to hijack. Some heavy-handed flirting ensues, followed by a noisy plane crash that kills everyone on board except these two. Cruise turns out to be a G‑man with a macguffin that some bad guys want and now Diaz is stuck in the middle, dodging the digital bullets and bombs.

Despite the glamorous locations (Boston, Seville, Salzburg and some kind of desert island), the dodgy CGI rear-projection means that Cruise probably never left the Hollywood backlot and he certainly doesn’t appear to have taken his eyes off the paycheck at any stage.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 21 July, 2010.