Pat Morita, Hilary Swank, Chris Conrad, Michael Ironside, Michael Cavalieri
Come on, everyone. America survived the surrender of Arsenio, the closing of Cheers, the retirement of Michael Jordan, the desecration of The Flintstones. Nobody would care about the end of the Karate Kid series, except maybe bean counters at Sony Pictures.
This desperate attempt to keep the franchise alive and kicking resorts to a backhanded kind of political correctness: introducing a surly teenage girl karate expert who goes around talking about “kicking butt.”
As played by Swank, the girl is a bratty Boston orphan whose grandmother is the widow of a man who was in the Army with Morita, the karate expert-mentor who guided Ralph Macchio through the first three KK films.
The grandmother takes off early on and leaves Swank in Morita’s care. Swank is enrolled at a screwy prep school where she is a misfit, though it’s clear she’s a sensitive misfit because she takes care of a hawk that has a broken wing that is used as a clumsy metaphor for the girl herself. Her nemeses are Ironside, a teacher who runs a boys’ club that seems modeled on the Hitler Youth, and Cavalieri, a member of Ironside’s group who has a crush on Swank and a grudge against her aw-shucks boyfriend, Conrad.
Swank’s father had taught her some karate, but Morita packs her off to a monastery run by Okinawan Buddhists to sharpen her skills. When she gets back, Conrad asks her to the prom and, in the movie’s only appealing sequence, Morita teaches her to waltz under the pretext of teaching her new karate moves.
This is all lead-in, of course, to a fight finale. Swank is athletic enough to make it almost plausible that she would take on a guy her age and hold her own.
Morita is likable and he’s a past master at keeping a straight face while muttering such neo-Chan Oriental wisdom as, “Birthday is special day. Everybody has birthday.” (PG)