Robbie (Jansen Panettiere) is a struggling teenager. Caught by the cops (we don’t find out why), his Grandma has run out of patience and ships him off to his Aunt Cindy and Uncle Glen's in Cocoa Beach. I don’t know why Robbie was so reluctant to get along with his adoptive parents - they are Don “The Dragon" Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock! They are the best parents a kid could possibly have! They agree too, and suggest he joins their martial arts school to learn some discipline. Unimpressed at first, he soon gets into it after seeing his Aunty and Uncle show off their skills on people that deserve to receive them. Robbie has an altercation with the local bully Bo (Matthew Ziff) whilst chatting up his girlfriend Rina (Kathryn Newton) that leads to further harassment in the school halls. He needs to learn how to defend himself if he wants to survive the rest of the school year.
All the old tropes are here. The girl of our hero-in-training's affection’s current neanderthal boyfriend, Bo (what a name for a douche) with a sports car he couldn’t possibly afford. His even douchier friends. The rival dojo run by Glen’s former friend Laurent Kaine (T. J. Storm) hilariously called "DOJO EXTREME!". A burgeoning teen romance. An all out dojo vs. dojo brawl. And of course, the obligatory training montage - everything you expect from a film called The Martial Arts Kid is here and it delivers.
Honestly, I found it a little strange that at my age I enjoyed this so much. I’m not even a big fan of The Karate Kid. But I really appreciated the straight-forward honesty of the movie that didn’t talk down to its audience. And I can’t stress this enough - It really is so great seeing both Don and Cynthia in the same film, as a married couple! Haha! And whilst they are second-fiddle to Jansen, they manage to get a few proper fights in. Cynthia even manages some beach towel-fu!
"We don’t tolerate bullies here."
Whilst I see (notable) stuntmen in the credits of the film, I am pretty sure that all the main players do their own work here. There’s a scene in the middle of the film of Glen’s dojo and it is packed to the brim with cute kiddies practicing their moves, which I thought was really cool. Robbie’s reaction to that moment is of “I can do this”, and from that moment on he really takes the training seriously. Afterwards he hears that Bo attacked Rina, and we get to see our first real brawls from Robbie outside of the dojo. Vengeance is a powerful thing!
The whole time I was watching this I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had seen Kathryn Newton in something before. Turns out I had, in Paranormal Activity 4 she had the lead role as Alex. She also has a recurring role in series Supernatural, so acting is not a new thing for her. The overall quality of the acting in the film was higher than I was anticipating. We aren’t talking Oscar material here but this is not Z-grade backyard production. Don and Cynthia act within their means giving believable performances in the parent role, and all the second tier cast perform admirably.
But of course the star of the movie is Jansen Panettiere; another teen actor making the leap from television to movie, his take on the Ralph Macchio role is solid. About the only character that didn’t work for me much was Bo (Matthew Ziff). His portrayal went too much into cliche-land for my liking, and a more over the top bully than any I remember from my school years! Funnily enough both he and T. J. Storm are in the upcoming Kickboxer: Vengeance together. Hopefully that film is as good as it should be.
“Assess. Assert. Dismantle."
The Martial Arts Kid won’t necesarily appeal to die-hard, super violent martial arts fans - but that is not the intended audience. This is a modern revision on a classic story, for a contemporary generation of teenagers who will be able to relate to the themes explored around bullying, dating and growing up. It could use a shave of fifteen minutes in the editing department, but otherwise is a natural, uplifting and positive independant movie about triumph over adversity, self-improvement, striving for goals and Cynthia and The Dragon beating up the occasional fool. Recommended.
The film can be purchased direct from the source at http://www.martialartskidmovie.com/. Note that my received blu-ray was a Manufacture on Demand BD-R disc, if that kind of thing matters to you.
Also is it just me or is Don starting to look more like Lou Diamond Phillips by the day?
There was a fabulous moment for us old timers when Robbie entered the dojo for the first time and sees on the walls photos of Uncle Glenn and Aunt Cindy, which are just old 90’s promo photos of The Dragon and Rothrock from Operation Cobra and Lady Dragon!