The year was 1995 and I was at the IGA next to my house which had a movie rental section. I was there searching for Mortal Kombat: The Movie which had been released that week. As I made my way to the new releases, a single VHS caught my eye as it often did for about a year: The Next Karate Kid. Every time I went there to rent a movie, I noticed that one VHS copy sitting by itself, likely never having been rented. It had been many years in kid-time since I had been interested in the Karate Kid franchise. Like other boys my age, I left it behind in lieu of 90s awesomeness such as Mortal Kombat: The Movie. I remember always looking at The Next Karate Kid on the shelf and wondering why they would bother making another movie, much less one that didn’t involve Ralph Macchio (and who was this Hilary Swank person?). That movie series ship had sailed and it seemed like no one was really excited about this sequel/reboot. I didn’t bother seeing it in theaters and I’m not sure anyone ever rented that one, sad copy on the shelf. And yet, it was something I always noticed for some reason. So there I was, on my way to renting Mortal Kombat when I once again saw this movie on the shelf. What choice did I make? Well, as it turns out, it was on that day that I proceeded to rent Mortal Kombat as planned. It was okay.
It would be almost thirty years before I decided to watch The Next Karate Kid.
Recently, I re-watched the Karate Kid trilogy. This was mostly due to my love of Cobra Kai and newfound interest in the franchise. I mentioned that I might knuckle down and watch this one since it was the only movie in the series that I had never seen. As I said before, it never looked interesting and over the years, I saw plenty of reviews online that talked about how terrible it was. Still, for the sake of completion, I went ahead and watched it.
So Was It As Bad As They Say?
Yes, it was.
Thanks for reading. Until next time….
Seriously though, this movie is not only bad but randomly bad. It probably would have been fine if not for how head-scratchingly weird everything was. For instance, the first ten minutes of the movie is basically a massive info dump as we learn that Miyagi had an old war buddy from Boston who recently died and while visiting his widow, learned his buddy’s granddaughter was an angsty teenager. The granddaughter, of course, is our main character Julie Pierce who lets us know in a single sentence that 1) her name is Julie, 2) her mom’s name is Susan, and 3) both her parents died in a car accident. This line was spoken to her own grandmother, by the way. The information could have easily been saved as exposition for Miyagi (and thus, the audience) but instead, it’s rattled off in a very odd and forced exchange between Julie and her grandmother who disappears from the film soon after. Another awkward line of dialogue came a few scenes later when, after Miyagi mentioned her grandfather, she randomly blurted out, “And now he’s dead. Everyone dies.” There’s a lot of that in this movie.
Anyway, seeing that this young stranger is an angsty teenager, Miyagi immediately offers to spend a few months with Julie to help her stop being angsty while the grandmother decides to leave the state all together. Keep in mind, Miyagi didn’t know Julie was being bullied at school or anything (more on that in a sec), so it’s a bit odd that after meeting Julie for all of three minutes, he decides to be a life coach. I mean, she was a bit of a jerk and that was obviously due to grief but it’s not like she was getting into any serious trouble. The movie soon reveals that Julie leaves the house every night in order to sneak into her school and tend to an injured hawk on the roof. I guess trespassing is an issue but it’s not like she was sneaking inside to cook meth. Of course, all that sneaking around catches up to her and she soon finds herself being chased by cops who can’t run ten feet without getting out-of-breath (btw, said chase scene begins with her approaching the cops instead of hiding, shining her flashlight in their faces, then throwing said flashlight so she can run in the pitch black, I guess… random!). With the cops unable to apprehend a young girl feeding a hawk, it soon falls upon our antagonists to take care of the situation.
The Alpha Elite
One interesting thing about this movie is that Julie trains with Miyagi to find inner peace and not so much to fight against bullies. I can appreciate that they didn’t follow the Karate Kid plot formula beat-for-beat regardless of the final product. That said, bullies do exist in this movie and they’re the most hilarious part. Now, let’s be fair about one thing: the bullies in the Karate Kid franchise can get ridiculous at times. The bullies often commit multiple felonies without the cops getting involved and they are normally led by some middle-aged man who has no reason to put all this time and effort into teenage bullshit. They have taxes to pay so they really shouldn’t care about schoolyard brawls. That said, this movie probably elevates this trope beyond even Terry Silver levels.
The Alpha Elite is some sorta paramilitary school security program composed of the most sociopathic boys at school who don’t seem to actually go to any classes and are okay hanging out at the school afterhours to catch Julie sneaking around. This group is led by Colonel Dugan, played by the always fun (even in bad movies) Michael Ironside. Now, my little head canon is that Ironside’s character from Starship Troopers somehow found himself in a time portal and landed in 1990s Boston, then continued “teaching” high school students without missing a beat. Aside from the missing arm, it’s more or less the same guy.
As expected, Dugan teaches his students to show no mercy and that if a classmate drops a candy bar wrapper on the floor, it would be an Alpha’s duty to, and I quote, “make them eat it”. By the way, their training apparently involves Dugan angrily punching and choking his students in broad daylight in front of the entire school. Now, in Karate Kid II, Kreese got away with choking Johnny in a parking lot without seeing a day in court. One could suspend disbelief juuuuust long enough to think that no one noticed since Miyagi made Kreese let go of Johnny almost immediately, it happened at night, and they were behind a car. Here, Dugan is outright punching high school students in the face with faculty, students, (and probably some parents) witnessing the events. And yet, according to Julie’s love interest Eric, the school is somehow best known for the Alpha Elite (and yes, Eric is a member initially and hopes Dugan can get him into the Air Force). They somehow have a stranglehold over the entire school. There’s a scene where Dugan tells the principal how to do his job in disciplining students and another where he is riding along with police officers when Julie sneaks into the school once too many times to feed her bird. He’s an important figure in the community because reasons.
Now, if this sort of group existed in a dystopian future setting, it would make sense. If the school was in a bad neighborhood where they needed extra tight security, I might go along with it for the sake of the plot. Instead, it’s an affluent area of Boston where the biggest threat is a litterbug in the hall. This doesn’t stop Dugan from constantly talking about “the enemy” as if the school were under attack from Russia or something. Also, Dugan eats lunch with his students in the cafeteria which I thought was hilarious.
Now, let’s get to Ned, the main bully who is introduced to us by planting evidence on Julie (a pack of cigarettes) because, of course, he likes her and she rejected him. He constantly asks her to go to the Docks with him, which is implied to be a make-out point in the area. Interestingly enough, he also challenges Julie’s love interest to a fight at the Docks as well, so maybe it’s a combination make-out/fight point for teens. The way this movie goes, however, it’s possible he wants to both fight and make-out with Julie and her boyfriend. At any rate, he is probably the least intimidating bully in all the Karate Kid movies. It should be noted that Ned sexually harasses Julie and at one point, he and his cronies chase her through the school at night with disturbing implications, which is obviously a serious matter, but I still consider him the least threatening bully because he is not trained in the martial arts so much as he’s trained to be an overly-aggressive mall cop for a school. His only fight with Julie was the most lop-sided fight of the entire movie series that didn’t involve Mr. Miyagi (because any fight with Miyagi is lopsided in his favor). Needless to say, I think the bullies Daniel Larusso had to put up with would put this guy to shame. That said, let’s talk about the action.
The few fight scenes in this movie are pretty bland and there is at least one that I consider to be one of the most awkward fight scenes ever. Pat Morita was awesome as Mr. Miyagi and I don’t want to besmirch his name but the fact of the matter is that when this movie was made, he was well into his 60s. So anyway, I think in this scene, Mr. Miyagi was supposed to be dodging and letting the rednecks hit each other. What really happened was that Pat Morita sorta stood there and let the younger stunt guys beat up the main dude. Otherwise, the fight scenes mostly happened at the end and were not well choreographed. Like I said, the movie separates itself from previous Karate Kid movies by having a more personal touch so it’s light on the action. Anyway, let’s get on with it.
Getting On With It
Once Julie is finally caught for sneaking into the school, she is suspended for a weeks and has a little road trip with Miyagi and the Alpha Elite almost completely disappear until the third act. The randomness doesn’t end, however. Miyagi takes her to a Buddhist monastery somewhere in New England and it’s never explained how he knows the monks there so the backstory is anyone’s guess. It also leads to some weird scenes like the monks dancing to The Cranberries or the scene where they all go bowling and use magic prayers to win against some doofus. One really odd part of this sequence, in my opinion, involved Julie killing a roach. Now, obviously these monks value all life, so one might expect them to tell Julie that killing bugs is frowned upon. Or perhaps Miyagi could have told her that prior to placing a bratty teenager in a monastery instead of after the fact. Barring that, perhaps this could have been a good time for the monks to teach her some of their philosophy. Instead, they all give her the cold shoulder for day or two until she shows them a praying mantis and proves she… won’t kill bugs anymore? Seems a bit petty for spiritual leaders.
Back home, Julie’s boyfriend Eric is tending to her pet hawk while also putting up with Ned and Dugan as he is still in the Alpha Elite. He soon grows to hate Dugan’s cruel teachings and getting pushed around by Ned. When he agrees to answer a phone call from his mother (secretly Julie) during training, Dugan kicks him off Alpha Elite for good and lets him know that Eric will be flipping burgers in the future. According to Dugan, people are either in Alpha Elite or they just go on to be fast food workers.
Once Julie finishes her training montages, she returns to school in time for prom. I admit, the following scenes are pretty good. Miyagi teaching Julie how to dance is honestly a touching scene and it was funny to see him flustered while trying to buy a dress for her. There is also the standard “dad scene” where Miyagi implicitly threatens Eric to be a gentleman while on their date. It’s cheesy and cliched, but Pat Morita’s acting and comedy skills were on point in these scenes and Hilary Swank’s monumental talent is evident even in one of her earliest roles. It shows this movie could have honestly been good if these two actors had a better script. Anyway, the rest of the movie happens after this.
The Alpha Elite show up at prom by bungee-jumping from the ceiling. Why? Who knows. One of the members injures his arm and when Eric checks on the guy to make sure he’s okay, Ned gets mad. How dare he make sure his friend didn’t die! Then Ned tells Eric and Julie to leave and gets even more mad when they leave. This ends with Ned challenging Eric to a fight at the Docks after breaking the windows in his car.
Once at the Docks, Ned tells Eric that they’re gonna finish things one-on-one and by one-on-one, I mean all his Alpha Elite buddies and Dugan come out and they start beating the crap out of him (remember what I said about how Ned isn’t very intimidating?). Also, they blow up his car. I haven’t mentioned this yet, but Walton Goggins is in this movie. He doesn’t do much except for in this scene where he goes from wanting to beat up Eric to no longer wanting to beat up Eric in about two minutes. Part of that comes from Dugan who starts ordering them to “finish” Eric off, finally cluing his students in that maybe Dugan is a complete nutbag. Of course, Miyagi and Julie show up and Dugan hilariously explains why Eric’s car blew up and he was several yards away with multiple punch-shaped bruises: he was driving drunk. Julie and Miyagi obviously don’t believe him but even if they were just bystanders or cops, it’s not like Eric was unconscious, so he could have easily proven none of that happened. Anyway, Dugan orders Ned to fight Julie who wins (using a blind-fighting technique she learned earlier in the movie, of course). Then Miyagi beats up Dugan, winks at Julie and the credits roll with the implication no one called the cops or anything.
While it was easily the weakest of all Karate Kid movies, it is something fun to snark at MST3K-style and Hilary Swank makes the best of a strange script. It had a few good moments and there seems to have been an attempt to do its own thing instead of just remaking the original movie. Speaking of which, I’m considering a re-watch of the Karate Kid remake now. I’ll try not to make fun of Jaden Smith too much. I don’t want to get slapped by his dad.