THE KARATE KID — ★★★ — Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan, Taraji P. Henson; with English subtitles (Chinese dialects); rated PG (violence, profanity, vulgarity, slurs); in general release
You can already see a lot of Will Smith in his son, Jaden.
And that's not just in reference to his facial features and expressions. The younger Smith exhibits a lot of the goofy qualities of his father, as well as his customary cockiness. However, he's got just enough of those traits to still be likable without becoming too cocky.
Despite his youth, Smith can also "carry" a film, as proved by "The Karate Kid." This remake of the beloved 1984 action-drama might be the first film with which he's been asked to do exactly that — at least without his father as co-star — but it won't be the last.
As fun and winning as it can be, though, parents should still be advised that some of the film's violent content is troubling, since much of it is directed at children and other youths. (Some sensitive, younger audiences might be bothered by these aspects.)
Smith stars as Dre Parker, a 12-year-old American who's just moved to China with his widowed mother, Sherry (Taraji P. Henson).
While his mother seems to be enjoying the change in scenery, Dre is having a hard time fitting in, and he's already acquired an arch-nemesis. He's Cheng (Zhenwei Wang), a classmate and would-be martial artist who gave our hero a pretty severe playground beat down.
Fortunately, Dre has made a couple of friends. A female classmate, Meiying (Wenwen Han), seems genuinely interested in him. And more importantly, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), the apartment building superintendent/repairman.
After helping Dre avoid another pummeling, Han agrees to train the boy in kung fu. But he tries to stress that the training is for defensive purposes, not for revenge.
Like its predecessor, the film is a tad on the long side — it runs more than two hours. And again, the violence-against-children content is a little distasteful.
But it's not enough to ruin the movie, which is both a good starring vehicle for Smith, as well as a giant step forward in the career of director Harald Zwart, whose earlier films "Agent Cody Banks" and "The Pink Panther 2" didn't suggest he had anything like this in him.
Zwart smartly uses Chan's talents well. A scene in which his character repels an attack from several younger opponents shows the action star is still spry. Chan also gets to stretch his acting muscles as well, and the on-screen friendship between his character and Smith's seems very real and genuine.
Additionally, Zwart has two memorable villains: Wang, and Chan's fellow Hong Kong action star Yu Rong Guang, who plays Cheng's sadistic coach.
(Kudos need to go to the film's camera crews for so beautifully capturing several majestic Chinese sites, including the Great Wall.)
"The Karate Kid" is rated PG and features some strong violent content and imagery, mostly involving pre-teens and teenagers (bullying, including beatings, and martial-arts action violence, such as kicking and punching), scattered profanity, some mildly suggestive references and slang terms, and derogatory language and slurs. Running time: 140 minutes.