Dana Stevens in Slate:
Hanging over any remake, but especially over the remake of a classic, is the question “Why?” Sometimes that syllable is muttered with a shrug of resignation (“The Wicker Man with Nic Cage? Why?”). Sometimes it’s bellowed to the uncaring heavens in agony (“Last Tango in Paris with Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes? WHYYY?”).
The notion of remaking The Karate Kid (Sony Pictures) elicits a “why?” of midlevel outrage. The 1984 original, in which Noriyuki “Pat” Morita coaches bullied teenager Ralph Macchio to victory in a karate championship, may have seemed like a standard-issue inspirational sports picture at the time, but (as with another box-office hit of the same year, The Terminator) a generation of remove reveals what a well-crafted movie it actually was. Rewatched today, the original Kid, directed by Rocky‘s John G. Avildsen, feels smart and fresh, with a wealth of small character details and a leisurely middle section that explores the boy’s developing respect for his teacher.
The first job of the new Karate Kid, then, was to not defile the spirit of the original—at that task this version succeeds almost too well. The script, by Christopher Murphey, reproduces the story of the earlier film beat for beat, and, at times, line for line. It’s respectful to the point of reverence, an odd stance to take toward a film that was fun in the first place because of its unpretentious pop schlockiness. To the credit of both Murphey and director Harald Zwart, that unhurried middle act remains intact—instead of using the nearly 2 ½-hour running time to cram in extra fight scenes, they give the mentor/student relationship at the movie’s heart time to unfold. While the fight scenes have been (literally) punched up by the inclusion of more spectacular martial-arts stunts—along with the bonecrunching sound effect now required to accompany all onscreen fisticuffs—this Karate Kid isn’t the rushed, coarsened, CGI-infested ripoff that fans of the original may be dreading. It’s as sweet-natured a movie as you could expect about a 12-year-old learning to beat the crap out of his schoolmates.
Cole Abaius at Film School Rejects:
Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) and his mother Sherry (Taraji P. Henson) have been relocated (with no other real financial options) to China, where Sherry will be working in the automobile plant there. When Dre gets his eyes blackened by another boy on playground, he becomes obsessed with learning how to defend himself, and finds an unwilling mentor in maintenance man Mr. Han (Jackie Chan). Dre falls in puppy love with Meiying (Wenwen Han), but he faces difficult training ahead and the threat of fighting his attacker in an open kung fu tournament.
This movie, directed by Harald Zwart, is about as seriously dramatic as you can aim at a younger audience, only lit occasionally by sparks of humor. For the most part, it weighs just heavily enough to make all of the situations of its story seem intimately dire. The humor comes from a sarcastic young lead and the ubiquitous warmth of character that can be found in just about any movie Jackie Chan sets foot in, but the moments are few, far between, and welcomed not because of the heaviness of the film, but because of its effectiveness in making the audience feel almost as isolated as Dre.
Tonally, it’s a very quiet film that builds to its crescendo steadily. In the beginning, Dre and Sherry are the only characters focused on – they are in a foreign country, don’t speak the language, don’t understand the culture, and Dre is graphically, violently bullied on his first day. The physicality and impact of some of the fighting sequences – especially early on when Dre can’t fight back – are brutal in light of the fact these are 11 and 12 years old fighting.
Finally, a movie with the kind of child-on-child violence America has been demanding.
But it works. The Karate Kid is decidedly un-campy in its attempt to show what it might really be like to be young and forced to move away from the safety of everything you know. This is matched by Mr. Han’s storyline – an ultimately tragic one that explains why he’s so sullen until he finds the small joy of Dre taking to the training. It’s also matched in some small way by every main character. Dre is a stranger in a strange land, his mother Sherry is upbeat but also never shown socializing with anyone but her son, Mr. Han barely speaks or interacts with anyone, and the love interest Meiying is isolated by her parents’ pressure on her to succeed as a violinist which results in her practicing away her childhood for hours on end.
Marshall Fine at Hollywood & Fine:
Director Harald Zwart’s resume includes such stellar entries as “Agent Cody Banks,” “The Pink Panther 2″ and now this dreary recapitulation of a movie that was tired when it was new, 25 years ago. Plodding doesn’t begin to describe the turgid pace of the film. And limited is a kind description of young Smith’s acting talent.
As for Oscar-nominee Henson, she has no character to play, only a mother figure. Which leaves Chan, who actually rises above the treacle to give a touchingly stolid and subdued performance. But he’s stuck with yet another subplot, one meant to explain why his character has isolated himself from the world – until he takes on Dre as a surrogate son.
Will Smith isn’t in “The Karate Kid” remake but this is a vanity project nonetheless. Kids will lap it up; their parents, however, can only hope to endure it.
And to our other flashback to the 80s, Carl Kozlowski at Big Hollywood:
Movies based on TV shows are often some of the most painful offerings studios have to offer. Whether suffering through the big-screen versions of “The Beverly Hillbillies” or “Car 54, Where Are You?”, “My Favorite Martian” or this summer’s mega-bomb “MacGruber,” the ratio of awful adaptations to successful ones is vastly disproportional.
Of course, once in awhile, some work: “Wayne’s World,” “The Blues Brothers” and (at least financially) the “Mission: Impossible” films come to mind. But with the new film version of “The A-Team,” Fox has concocted a wildly uneven yet (at many moments) even more wildly entertaining edition of the ridiculously fun ‘80s NBC series that manages to both disappoint and enthrall action fans within the span of a rollicking two hours.
Series purists may find plenty to grouse about, as the film kicks off with a somewhat-different take on the group, having Col. Hannibal Smith (played by Liam Neeson here and George Peppard on TV) meet B.A. Baracus (Quinton “Rampage” Jackson here, and the immortal Mr. T on TV) for the first time, as he forces him to let him hitch a ride en route to saving his friend “Faceman” (Bradley Cooper here, and Dirk Benedict on TV). They are immediately at odds before bonding over their mutual Army Rangers tattoos, a trait they share with Faceman and their final member, an insane chopper pilot named “Howling Mad” Murdock (Sharlto Copley of “District 9” here, and Dwight Schultz on TV).
The tattoo discovery and subsequent bonding is a bit heavy-handed and produced unintended chuckles from the audience, and the opening action set-piece involving rescuing Faceman from Mexican killers features both underwhelming action and annoying rap-rock on the score. Just when the film seems to be mired in bad writing and an obnoxious sensory overload, however, something starts to click.
Once the storyline jumps ten years from the opening action to the present, where the A-Team is mixed in with US troops in Iraq, it quickly finds its footing. A CIA agent named Lynch (Patrick Wilson) enlists Hannibal to bring the team out on a mission to find and retrieve US currency-making plates stolen by Iraqi soldiers during the first Gulf War, and which are now in danger of falling into even worse hands.
The team pulls off the plate retrieval, only to have a surprise twist occur that results in their being accused of high crimes, put on trial by the military and sent to individual prisons scattered around the planet. When they eventually get a chance to escape and save the day, the resulting four breakouts are again highly entertaining, although nothing tops a sequence in which the guys wind up in an aerial dogfight with two US fighter drone jets with heat-seeking missiles, while flying a tank. Crazier still is the sight of Faceman popping open the tank roof and manning a machine-gun turret against the drones.
Yes, you read right: they fly a tank. The sequence is absurd, over-the-top, and utterly amazing – to my mind one of the best action scenes I’ve ever witnessed, and it’s nearly matched just minutes later with an incredible heist and shootout involving the skyscrapers and streets of Berlin. Director/co-writer Joe Carnahan (the also audaciously entertaining “Smokin’ Aces”) is fast becoming a major force to be reckoned with.
The A-Team would be more enjoyable if its stars had any charm, or if, five minutes after leaving the theater, we could remember anything about what their characters were like. Copley (who starred in last year’s low-budget sci-fi hit District 9) is Murdock, the crazy pilot. Cooper is Face, so called because he’s always sucking one. (Jessica Biel wanders through the movie, lost and underused, as one of his old love interests.) B.A. Baracus is played by former UFC light heavyweight champ Jackson, who has almost nothing to do except scowl and look brawny. And Neeson struggles not-so-valiantly in the George Peppard role as the cigar-chomping Hannibal Smith.
I have renewed respect for Neeson since he started taking roles in trashier movies: I loved watching him knock heads in Pierre Morel’s joyously disreputable Taken. Roles like these loosen him up, and in the opening sequence of The A-Team — in which he almost magically dispatches a duo of snarling Rottweilers without harming them — I thought he, and the movie, might be fun.
But he, and the movie, only ground me down. Neeson barely registers as a presence here. (I kind of remember Cooper, because of his radioactive glowing teeth.) The movie is cut in such a way that it doesn’t really contain scenes; it’s more like a bundle of dangling participles. That’s not good for actors, especially a performer like Neeson, who’s at his best, even in a total piece of crap, when he can inject a little soul here and there. There’s no room for soul in The A-Team. Even in the context of junky-fun action adventures, this one hits a new low. It’s a worst-case scenario for the way action movies are headed: It’s all action and no movie.
Andrew O’Hehir at Salon:
For a movie that reportedly required 11 writers and more than 10 years to complete — all without any real reason for existing in the first place — “The A-Team” is reasonably good fun. If you’re a 12-year-old boy riding an intense Cherry Pepsi buzz and totally devoted to destroying some brain cells, that is. But then, I can’t imagine what other demographic could possibly be intended for this carbo-loading action spectacle, which makes only the vaguest gestures at plot or characterization (or the not-so-lamented ’80s TV original) in between its helicopter chases, Frankfurt bank heists, Mexican drug-lord takedowns and other balletic but incoherent production numbers.
OK, I do have two younger colleagues who sheepishly admit that they thought Stephen J. Cannell’s NBC series, which starred George Peppard and Mr. T (he of Nancy Reagan fame) and ran from 1983 to 1987, was “cool.” They were little kids at the time; I suppose it’s forgivable. So there must exist a micro-generation of youngish adults for whom this title exerts a nostalgic pull. Well, you can keep your hoard of Pop Rocks and Ninja Turtles in storage a while longer, because “A-Team” director Joe Carnahan (a Tarantino or Guy Ritchie wannabe who’s been kicking around the film world for a generation) and his bevy of writers make no effort to create some clever retro-camp lovefest.
Which is just fine with me; we’ve seen quite enough resuscitated mid-’80s pop-culture mediocrity, thank you, and the TV “A-Team” didn’t even rise to that level. (I’m sorry, Flock of Seagulls and Tears for Fears fans. The time has come to move on.) What Carnahan and company have done instead is attempt to launch a new megabucks action franchise, aimed at younger viewers for whom the original “A-Team” is a misty fragment of cultural prehistory, perhaps referenced by their drunken hipster uncles at Fourth of July barbecues: “I pity the fool who gets between me and my Pabst Blue Ribbon!”
Alex Eichler at The Atlantic