Picks and Pans Review: The Karate Kid

updated 07/09/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/09/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Ralph (The Outsiders) Macchio plays a New Jersey kid who moves to California with his mother. Naturally he's made unwelcome among the kids at school, especially by William Zabka, a blond karate nut, and his gang of thugs. They get really mad when Zabka's ex-girlfriend, Elisabeth Shue, takes a shine to the new boy. Then Macchio, whose winning smile makes up for his stupid swaggering, hooks up with an old Japanese handyman, and his life changes. The handyman, played with disarming calm by Noriyuki "Pat" (Happy Days) Morita, teaches the youngster to be a martial arts wizard, but one with a heart. It all leads, of course, to a big climax at a karate tournament where Ralph faces down the bully. It's predictable and strained, but who cares? Director John Avildsen won an Oscar for Rocky in 1976; that movie, despite its embarrassingly clunky style, was a rousing hooray-for-the-good-guys flick. So is this. The wonderful parts of this film are those involving the kid and the old guy; there is something magical about the old man's balanced, compassionate view of life. Morita also proves that economy is effective when it comes to acting. The movie sags badly when it lapses into the obligatory teen-romance story. Shue has no real role except to cheer for her new boyfriend. The film is so deftly calculated to arouse audience sympathy, though, that it's hard in the end to avoid joining her. (PG)

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