The Next Karate Kid (1994, Christopher Cain)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Mr Miyagi gets a new student when the granddaughter of a friend needs some help…

Cast and story:
* In the opening scene, Mr Miyagi (Pat Morita) – the only character to be carried over from the previous films – talks to the widow of an old army buddy during a ceremony to honour their platoon.
* Louisa Pierce (Constance Towers) invites him to her house in Boston, where he meets her surly teenage granddaughter Julie (Hilary Swank). The girl is bitter and angry because her parents have been killed in a car crash; her only friend is a tame hawk she secretly houses on the roof of her school.
* Seeing that Louisa is struggling, Mr Miyagi suggests a plan: she can live in his house in California for a few weeks and he’ll stay to look after Julie. (Louisa now vanishes from the story entirely: she misses her granddaughter’s suspension from school, birthday and high-school prom. Great timing, Granny!)
* Julie goes to a very strange school (or at least it seems strange to this British viewer). It’s a place where a thuggish fraternity wear branded T-shirts and roam the halls dishing out punishments. Even more strangely, their leader is a grown man: Colonel Dugan (Michael Ironside), who even bosses the principle around. One of the self-titled Alpha Elite, a cocky little shit called Ned Randall (Michael Cavalieri), picks on Julie for no readily apparent reason.
* Meanwhile, another pupil she doesn’t know despite going to school with him for several years is Eric McGowen (Chris Conrad). He takes a shine to her and even learns about her hawk.
* Visiting the school, Mr Miyagi sees how cruel Dugan is with his students and intervenes. The bullying continues, though, and Julie is then suspended for some lame reason or other. So Mr Miyagi offers to take her away for a couple of weeks…
* They go to a Buddhist monastery somewhere within a drive of Boston. While there, Mr M teaches Julie about karate. While she learns she begins to calm down and find an inner peace. She even smiles.
* They return to Boston, but Julie is devastated to discover that nasty Ned has let her hawk loose… so in the next scene she simply retrieves the bird from a local animal sanctuary. (High drama, there!)
* Nice Eric asks Julie to the prom, but despite living in an enormous, upper-middle-class house she can’t afford or find a suitable dress. So Mr Miyagi goes and buys one for her. (The frock he picks out does not contain a huge amount of material. The perv.)
* In a lovely reversal of the wax-on/wax-off scene from the first movie, Mr Miyagi then tells Julie he’s going to show her a karate move – but as they practise it she realises he’s actually teaching her to dance.
* Julie and Eric go to the prom, but later that night the Alpha Elites target Eric and taunt him into fighting them. They give him a good beating and Dugan wants him killed (seriously?!) – but then Julie and Mr Miyagi show up. Julie fights Ned; Mr M fights Dugan. Both our heroes win, obvs.

Review: The character of Mr Miyagi is part of a grand tradition in genre cinema – the wise, old mentor who schools the young hero/es. He sits alongside Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, Doc Brown, Charles Xavier, Gandalf, Mickey Goldmill and many others. So why not give him his own spin-off film? Not a terrible idea in and of itself, but sadly this limp movie doesn’t serve him very well. For a start, he’s written and played quite differently from before. (Robert Mark Kamen, who wrote the first three Karate Kid movies, wasn’t involved in this project.) The character has been repurposed as a social-worker type who can’t resist helping a damaged teenager: he’s less mysterious, more openly avuncular, and much less interesting. Elsewhere, Hilary Swank (a future Oscar-winner, of course) is perfectly fine as Julie and Michael Ironside (who’s usually able to make trash watchable) is doing his best as Dugan. There’s also some nice comedy business with the Buddhist monks and the film is occasionally sweet. But all too often it’s just cheesy. The on-the-nose dialogue and thin characters are difficult to get past, and there’s the general air of the kind of soppy TV movie you get on a weekday afternoon on Channel 5.

Four dancing monks out of 10

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