Review: 'The Karate Kid' Starring Jaden Smith

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Hollywood has always been green-friendly, but now it’s one of the world’s biggest recyclers. The latest example: The Karate Kid. (Wait—there’s also The A-Team. Is it 1984 again?)

That was the year the first Karate Kid movie came out, and it quickly became a national sensation. The original wasn’t just cotton-candy action. It was a skillful Rocky-eqsue sports story; the late Pat Morita landed an Oscar nomination for playing Mr. Miyagi, teacher of karate and all things in life (it would have been cooler had he won). Naturally, this meant that the studio did karate kicks until it had squeezed every penny out of the formula. There were three more sequels, including The Next Karate Kid, starring an unknown Hilary Swank. It flopped, by the way, because there’s nothing more boring for grade-school boys than watching a girl fight.

Of all the franchises Hollywood has been sifting through, another Karate Kid hardly seems like a must-do. But based on the cheers and applause from the test screening I attended, we have a promising new contender in the ring (or on the mat … actually). He’s the 11-year-old actor Jaden Smith. That name might ring a bell, because his dad, Will, has opened a film or two, and the pair appeared together (quite convincingly) in The Pursuit of Happyness. The older Smith got the Oscar nomination, but Jaden actually pulled off the bigger coup. Portraying a young boy without a home, his performance was so subtle, it made the story real. He does the same to this overinflated (nearly 2.5 hours) Karate Kid remake, which follows the equation of the first film, as its lanky protagonist learns how to channel his rage into his sport (the teacher this time is Jackie Chan).

The big question mark for offspring of celebrities isn’t if they can act, but if they can live up to the family legacy: Streep, Sheen, Hanks, Douglas, Roberts, etc. Jaden has inherited his father’s charm gene (and some of mom Jada’s spunkiness), and he might have the same movie-star potential. Even though he’s even younger than his father was when The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air got him his start, he has a natural ease with slapstick comedy, and he holds his own with Chan and Taraji P. Henson, who plays his mom. Most importantly, he comes across as his own actor, not an appendage to his dad. I’m tempted to say he’s the most promising young performer since Miley Cyrus, but I’m not sure. Is that a compliment—or a curse?