Tuesday, June 1, 2010

"The Karate Kid, Part III" (1989)

"The Karate Kid, Part III" (1989)
Starring Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita and Robyn Lively
Written by Robert Mark Kamen
Directed by John G. Avildsen

Oh, what to make of this one...  "The Karate Kid, Part III" suffers from a number of the same problems as the second, and also adds in a few new ones to boot.  Overly cartoonish villains and a reliance on repeating story beats from the first movie mean that this is one of those sequels content with simply trying to recreate the success of the original, only bigger and badder.

Here, Daniel and Miyagi have returned from Okinawa to find Miyagi out of a job.  Instead of going to college, Daniel spends his savings on renting space for Miyagi to open a Bonsai tree store.  He also soon meets a new romantic interest, Jessica, who owns a pottery store across the street (a lame excuse is made for why Daniel's Japanese girlfriend Kumiko is already out of the picture). 

At the same time, Kreese (Martin Kove), the sensei of the Kobra Kai dojo from the first movie, finds himself down and out.  After his embarrassing loss to Daniel at the All Valley Tournament, his students have left his dojo.  Kreese goes to see his rich former Army buddy, Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith), an obnoxious, spoiled ultimate douche with unlimited resources.  Silver sets Kreese up on a vacation to Tahiti, and goes about getting revenge against Daniel and Miyagi.

Silver hires "karate's bad boy" Mike Barnes (Sean Kanan) to bully Daniel into defending his title at the All Valley Tournament.  At the same time, he pretends to be a humble karate teacher willing to show Daniel harsher moves and techniques that Miyagi won't.  As the attacks by Barnes and his cronies become more and more dangerous, Daniel begins to reject Miyagi's pleas for peace and patience and succumbs to the temptations of the Kobra Kai's angry, hateful karate. 

This all leads to a showdown, of course, at the All Valley Tournament in a scene that seems almost shot for shot remade from the original movie.  Once again, Daniel masters a new bit of karate just at the critical moment in order to defeat Barnes and keep his title (and embarrass the crap out of Kreese and Silver). 

While I had to give points to "Karate Kid, Part II" for doing something different even if it didn't succeed, "Karate Kid, Part III" obviously felt that its best chances were to NOT try something different.  At least here, though, the focus is put squarely where it belongs: on Daniel, putting him in a situation that feels more natural, without having to conjure up things for him to do.  At the same time, though, Terry Silver is a godawful villain for the piece.  At least in the first flick, the Kobra Kai were just sort of misguided bullies.  Here, Silver and Kreese are outright malevolent evil and Barnes is little more than a hired thug. 

The emotional journey for Daniel is better here than whatever it was they were trying to do with the second film, but there are again problems with pacing and redundancy that can make this third film seem somewhat boring.  It just takes too long to get anywhere, and a lot of the dialogue beats you over the head with things you already knew or that characters have already said.  Like the second movie, this one could easily shed about ten minutes. 

Macchio and Morita prove that they still have it in their interactions.  The two of them just work well together, period.  Macchio by himself is problematic, however, as ofen Daniel comes off as a big wuss for much of the movie.  That Macchio was pushing 30 when starring as a teenager, and that his weight fluctuates throughout the movie doesn't help much, either.  Macchio and Lively work better than the coupling in the second movie, too, but she serves even less purpose than Kumiko did.  In fact, Lively's character flatout disappears for the movie's third act, saying she's going home to visit her boyfriend and asks Daniel to send her a Christmas card.  It's bizarre, and stands out like a sore thumb in terms of the movie's narrative. 

This would be the last "Karate Kid" with Macchio as the star (he's replaced by Hilary Swank of all people for "The Next Karate Kid" and now Will Smith's spawn in the 2010 remake of the original).  So it's hard to say whether or not this is a better or worse sequel than the second.  Probably worse.  Too much of it feels like an empty, cartoonish retread of the first movie.  It's like the writer knew he'd screwed up the second one, and tried to fix it but fixed all the wrong parts.