Picks and Pans Review: Karate Kid Part Iii

updated 07/10/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/10/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Pat Morita, Ralph Macchio

The journey of a thousand sequels begins with one tiny hippity-hop over to check the gross projections.

Macchio is back—no, his voice hasn't changed yet—and Morita is stuck with him. At least now Macchio is supposed to be starting college, though otherwise he remains the most unlikely of martial artists. Throughout this film, he gets pummeled by second-, third-and fourth-string villains, while his old mentor, Morita, as Mr. Miyagi, who still hasn't learned the English word for hai (it's "yes," Miyagi-san), tries to retire and start a bonsai-tree business. But the bad guys want Macchio to defend his title in the karate contest he won in the first film so they can get revenge, and they're so serious, they even beat up Morita's favorite bonsai.

The discerning moviegoer will soon realize that sleazy tycoon Thomas Ian Griffith is the main villain. That's partly because he both smokes huge cigars and wears his hair in a little ponytail, two sure signs of meanness. It's also because Griffith's legitimate business is disposing of nuclear and toxic waste. Mostly, though, it's because in one of his first lines Griffith reveals his plans for Macchio: "to make him suffer and suffer and suffer, and when I think that he's suffered enough, then I start with the pain."

A pose like a crane might be quite Oriental, but crotch kicks are a guys best friend.

Anyway, Macchio gets a new friend, Robin (Teen Witch) Lively, though their relationship remains platonic. He also gets briefly suckered in by Griffith, who lures the insecurity-ridden youth away from Morita by promising to teach him dirty fighting, when all Morita offers is bad diction and platitudes: "No need nothing except what inside you to grow." Morita eventually goes hand to hand with Griffith, who is about 25 years younger, a foot taller and 150 lbs. heavier and has two vicious buddies on hand. Suffice it to say that the scene does not bring to mind the phrase cinema verité.

Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy.

But then the director of this movie is John (Rocky) Avildsen, not known for his sense of plausibility. Before the final confrontation, Griffith's champion, the maniacally vicious Sean Kanan, trains by whacking anything that moves and snarling a lot. Meanwhile, the reconciled Macchio and Morita undergo intense practice sessions to improve their silhouettes while posing against picturesque sunsets.

In the finale, Kanan has all but obliterated Macchio when Morita waxes philosophical again, perhaps recalling that the first two Karate Kid films took in $250 million or so and that if old Ralphie boy goes any further in the mincemeat direction, the game might be up. You won't learn here about the suspenseful next 10 seconds and whether there's an anticlimactic turnaround in which Kanan takes an obvious dive.

But just so you'll sleep better: The bonsai tree lives happily ever after. (PG)

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