The series is brought smack into the middle of the 90s with a movie that's so fucking 90s, you'll swear it's the 90s.
All in all, though. This is not a terrible example of its type. A change in the creative team leads to a change in tone and style - mostly for the better. Not using the tired underdog/tournament formula, the film is instead a combination coming-of-age drama and gritty action flick. Moving the location to the Boston suburbs also gives things a different color.
So, at least it's different is what I'm saying.
In her film debut, Hilary Swank makes a more than adequate substitution for Ralph Macchio. Let’s face it, she’s just a better actress. And she has nice chemistry with Pat Morita, which is the lynchpin for these things anyway.
Oh, I guess she's a tad insufferable at first. But that's okay. She's supposed to be. She's playing an angry teen. Much like the troubled teen she played on 90210 or Melrose Place or wherever the hell she hailed from before she wound up in this.
And yes... The "human interest" portion of the drama does play out, basically, like the meat of a teen soap like the ones I just mentioned. It's that same glossy, mall crowd silliness. Complete with a beefcake love interest who looks a little too much like Ted Bundy for my tastes.
But that's fine. Theirs is not the central relationship anyway. The Bundy lookalike doesn't even really have a lot to do in here until the obligatory climax, in which he must escort Swank to the senior prom and then later get slapped around like a punk by the bad guys...
And about those bad guys... On the one hand, it's refreshing how this movie isn't once again built around a scenario involving the big upcoming Karate Tournament. But you still need villains, right? I mean, there has to be a reason for Miyagi to train Swank... What the filmmakers come up with is singularly strange: A band of black t-shirt and 501 jeans wearing fascist thugs - who patrol the high school - and are under the command of one truly fucked up individual played by Michael Ironside.
Ironside is tremendous in this. It's a shame he isn't in it more. His blustery performance is all seething pomp and tight-lipped menace... He is exactly the sort of ridiculous comic book villain you want in a basically silly movie like this. And it's all worth it for the action climax, which - in true 90s tradition - takes place on the shipping docks and has at least one explosion followed by chop socky brawls on wet down pavement surrounded by the flames. That one of those epic fights is between Ironside and Pat Fucking Morita is all the more delicious.
So that's this movie...
A silly as shit but absolutely harmless teen thriller that takes Swank from sulky outcast to dignified badass complete with a showdown on the docks. Along the way, it makes room for superficial existentialism with zen monks at a beautiful monastery somewhere in the hills, I guess, of Massachusetts.
And there's a fun scene, right out of an episode of Family Matters or, if you're more highbrow, Coach...where the little Asian men beat a bunch of loud middle American jackasses at bowling.
The important thing is the heart is in the right place. As far as stiffly formulaic programmers aimed at young women go, this one is decent enough.