MartialArtsKidcoverGrade: C+
Entire family: No, but darned close
2015, 103 min., Color
Traditionz Entertainment
Not rated (would be PG for martial arts fighting)
Aspect ratio: 16×9 widescreen
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Bonus features: C+
Amazon link

As its title suggests, The Martial Arts Kid (2015) is a remake of The Karate Kid, though this five Dove-rated film was made with a much lower budget than the $8 million the original 1984 film had to work with. Ironically, the remake was partially funded by a Kickstarter campaign, and the lower budget mostly shows up in the lack of experienced actors as extras and in rougher-looking tracking shots.

But Jansen Panettiere, Hayden’s younger brother, is just as likable as Ralph Macchio was as the title character—only in this version he has the added burden of playing a troubled youth whom we see carted away in a police car in the opening sequence. When his grandmother announces she can’t take it anymore, the setting changes from Cleveland, Ohio to Cocoa Beach, Florida, where he will live with his Aunt Cindy (Cynthia Rothrock), her Asian husband Glen (Don “The Dragon” Wilson), and their 12-year-old daughter, Katie (Kayley Stallings, who does a lot with a small role).

MartialArtsKidscreen1The thing is, young Robbie (Panettiere) seems pretty wholesome and clean-cut from the beginning, and his last words to an appalled grandma—“It’s not as bad as it looks”—aren’t enough to explain why this nice guy goes from someone who’s in with a rough crowd one minute and someone who sits at the nerd table in school and is bullied in Florida the next. Except that that was loosely the plot of The Karate Kid, and apart from this twist and the resolution, The Martial Arts Kid stays pretty close to the original script.

Like The Karate Kid, Robbie finds his life complicated when he falls for a girl whose boyfriend is a student at a take-no-prisoners dojo and bullies him—though the bullying episodes are much harder to believe in The Martial Arts Kid. For one thing, Bo (Matthew Ziff) gets away with murder, figuratively speaking, with authority figures not really doing anything because “his father is powerful.” Really? That might have been believable in the ‘70s, but in this age of WikiLeaks even the most powerful are held accountable. Same with the “break their legs” philosophy taught by Dojo Extreme master Kaine (T.J. Storm).

MartialArtsKidscreen2The year before this film was released, Cocoa Beach had a lower-than-average crime rate, and on film it looks like an upscale little Space Coast Town—not the kind of place where an angry dude would threaten to demolish a dealer who won’t give him a refund, or thugs would attack others in broad daylight with a knife. When things like that happen here, you’re well aware that they’re plot contrivances. That said, it’s praiseworthy that Robbie’s salvation comes not only from mentor Glen, who agrees to take him on as a student at his school, but also from Aunt Cindy . . . and that she was a martial arts expert before she decided to develop her skills further with her husband.

The Martial Arts Kid couldn’t be clearer about its main message—bullies suck— though a sub-message gets kind of blurry in an ending that offers not a structured match between the “kid” and his tormenter, but a resolution that’s a little more free form, shall we say. This remake may be a little corny in its wholesomeness, but that’s a trait of family films. The message is a good one, women aren’t portrayed as damsels in distress, and Panettiere and Kathryn Newton (TV’s Gary Unmarried) have enough chemistry to where you want them to be happy. For all its low-budget flaws, The Martial Arts Kid still makes for an entertaining family movie night. Dove approved this for ages 12 and older, but I see no reason why under-12s also couldn’t watch. You don’t have to be 12 to be bullied or take martial arts lessons, right?

Language: Nothing offensive here
Sex: None; just an innocent kiss and sparring takedown
Violence: Knives and guns are pulled at one point, but it’s all martial arts otherwise
Adult situations: Plenty of pseudo low-lifes
Takeaway: My teenage son said this movie was better than he expected, and I’d have to agree, especially considering the budget