For a movie starring so many action stars and fighting champs, The Martial Arts Kid falls surprisingly short of winning any medals.
Its too-familiar story follows a kind of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air line that sees troubled kid Robbie (Jansen Panettiere) shipped south to his aunt and uncle’s place in the woefully sleepy Florida town of Melbourne. With not much besides sandy beaches and a tough guy’s girl to distract him, Robbie soon learns that trouble will find him unless he learns to defend himself from school bullies.
From the Eighties-esque music that opens the movie to the after-school-special vibe of the script, The Martial Arts Kid is a throwback, but not one likely to connect with its intended nostalgic audience. The film is rife with homages to the “bullied kid learns martial arts” classic, The Karate Kid, but never quite finds its own footing in the ring. The editing is choppy and the dialogue sophomoric, however hard the actors try to deliver it dramatically. Perhaps director Michael Baumgarten’s most interesting contribution is the use of drone shots to show off the quiet coastal setting. But this is before everything devolves into a free-for-all fest of fists and fury pitting the good dojo against the bad one.
The movie tries to sell a message of peace at the hands of fighters like Cynthia Rothrock and Don “The Dragon” Wilson, plus something about the importance of responsible teachers. The forces of good and evil will fight on another day well after The Martial Arts Kid has passed into history.
The Martial Arts Kid
Directed by Michael Baumgarten
Opens September 18, Anthology Film Archives
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 15, 2015