THE KARATE KID:

For anyone who’s seen the original 1984 movie, there’s a rare sense of excited anticipation in this remake when the title character (Jaden Smith) is taking a beating from a gang of kung fu proficient bullies. The knowledge that intervention is about to come from martial arts movie star Jackie Chan (RUSH HOUR) prepares us for the kind of special sequence comparable to that moment at Jackrabbit Slim’s in PULP FICTION (1994) when we know we’re about to see John Travolta (SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER) dance. The scene makes good on its promise as does most of this newer, well-made version of the Ralph Macchio-Noriyuki “Pat” Morita family favorite which spawned three sequels. But in this incarnation, the single-parent family moves from Detroit to Beijing, where Aryan blonde-haired kids are friends and a gang of Asian schoolyard toughs led by a badass named Cheng (Wang Zhenwei) are to be avoided at all costs. I don’t think enough attention is paid to how a movie is cast so I’ll break with that tradition by saying it’s the primary reason this flick works. Chan is inherently credible as the coach whose English is meant to be halting, and even a serious role for him generates a disproportionate amount of charisma per word spoken. Smith (THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS), the son of Will (ALI) and Jada Pinkett Smith (MENACE II SOCIETY), has a natural presence and an unforced likeability that few child stars show (See sidebar below.). There are times when Christopher Murphey’s screenplay is similar to a Chinese travelogue with cinematographer Roger Pratt’s lingering shots of the Forbidden City, the Great Wall and other notable landmarks. Even if KID is overlong, though, it’s still an enjoyable crowd-pleaser. CRITIC’S GRADE: B

MY ALL-TIME FAVORITE PERFORMANCES BY CHILD ACTORS (in ascending order): 10. Patty McCormack in THE BAD SEED (1956) 9. Justin Henry in KRAMER vs. KRAMER (1979) 8. Anna Paquin in THE PIANO (1993) 7. Peggy Ann Garner in A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN (1945) 6. Haley Joel Osment in THE SIXTH SENSE (1999) 5. Linda Manz in DAYS OF HEAVEN (1978) 4. Patty Duke in THE MIRACLE WORKER (1962) 3. Mary Badham in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962) 2. Tatum O’Neal in PAPER MOON (1973) 1. Judy Garland in THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)