Reviewed by Colin Jacobson/Brian Ludovico (December 9, 2021)
Back in 1984, The Karate Kid became a surprise smash. A low-budget flick, it turned into a nice hit that earned a more than tidy profit.
Inevitably, this led to a sequel via 1986’s Karate Kid Part II. Though it received weak reviews, audiences flocked to it and it actually took in more money than the original.
Just as inevitably, this meant another dip in the water with 1989’s Karate Kid Part III. Finally the well ran dry, as it made barely one-fourth the gross of the second flick and ended the series.
Well, until the even less successful spin-off Next Karate Kid in 1994 finished the “original run” of flicks. A 2010 reboot did very well, though it didn’t spawn a new franchise.
Kid III concluded our run with the original leads, and we start with a deposed and despondent John Kreese (Martin Kove). The disgraced owner of a now failed dojo, he finds his life in shambles.
Kreese’s former war buddy and apparent financial backer Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Mitchell) feels upset by this news, so he sends Kreese to Tahiti and promises to avenge his honor. Silver will employ martial arts bad boy Mike Barnes (Sean Kanan) to kick the living crap out of Daniel Larusso (Ralph Macchio) at the latter’s defense of the All Valley karate title.
Mentor/friend Mr. Miyagi (Noriyuki “Pat” Morita) encourages Daniel to skip the tournament and his student reluctantly agrees. However, Silver’s insidious plan subverts this plan, so Daniel and Mr. Miyagi find themselves ensnared in various issues that inevitably lead toward more climactic martial arts.
All of that sounds like a really contrived way to get Daniel back into the tournament and to revive our animosity toward Kreese – or his doppelganger, the even nastier Silver. Terry comes across as more dangerous than Kreese because he’s smarter and wealthier.
That doesn’t make Silver more believable, though. Kreese offered a semi-cartoony villain, but he still largely lived in the real world.
Not Silver, as he delivers the most absurd baddie one can imagine. He practically dons a top hat and twirls his mustache as he cackles in glee at his wicked plans.
All of this seems ludicrous as ludicrous can be. If Silver really wanted to help Kreese, why not just give him some financial backing and leave it at that? Why does Silver care about Kreese’s “personal honor” – which Kreese himself torpedoed?
Basically, Robert Mark Kamen - writer for all three installments - takes the conflict elements of The Karate Kid, shuffles them around, adorns them with just a few different baubles, and calls it a movie. It’s symptomatic of the script’s sloth that this movie that can’t come up with a better name than “Mr. Miyagi’s Little Trees” for a bonsai store.
Characters get thrown together and when they don’t work, they just get pushed out of the film. Daniel’s nascent love interest Jessica (Robyn Lively) comes and goes at random and never plays a real part in the proceedings other than to make the increasingly touchy-feely Daniel/Miyagi relationship seem less gay, I guess.
The villains become the best part of the movie, mainly because of this lassitude. There’s no attempt to rationalize their actions, so they’re just obsessed and evil.
Thomas’s performance as Silver becomes hilariously over the top and delivers the movie’s only entertainment - unintentional entertainment due to his campiness, that is. Griffith looks awfully young to play a Vietnam vet buddy of Kove, probably because Griffith was 27 and Kove 43.
Crud, Griffith was slightly younger than Macchio! Macchio still maintained a fairly youthful vibe, but it remains perplexing that we were supposed to buy then-27-year-old Griffith as a Vietnam vet, especially given that the guy was 11 when the US left the conflict. Why not hire a more age-appropriate actor?
In no uncertain terms, The Karate Kid III delivers a narrative failure. The filmmakers count on us to simply reconnect with these characters on the same level we did in the original, and to a lesser extent in Part II, but they offer us nothing new as an incentive to do so.
We know that Daniel and Miyagi are on the right side of karate, and Silver’s thugs represent the wrong. We know that in spite of the odds, Daniel will triumph, which is nothing new for this series, but we aren’t invested enough in the story to really care about the journey.
Kid III feels like nothing more than cheap product, a lame attempt to further a sputtering franchise. This ends up as 112 minutes of tedious, campy “drama”.