The Bottom Line
Hunky Jonathan Brandis is inexplicably unpopular at school, until he picks up that fine babe magnet known as karate. With the help of a fat Asian stereotype, a PG-rated love interest, and a cameo from Chuck Norris, Brandeis earns his keep at the Big Karate Tournament.
Now Chuck Norris, he could kick your ass and mine 28 different ways. But Lord knows, the man cannot act. Luckily then, he only appears briefly in the film, and in those moments, he does what he does best (see above).
Filmed over 4 weeks in Houston, the film was a Norris vanity project from the get go: his brother Aaron directed, and his son Eric received the somewhat daunting task of playing Brandeis' tormentor at school.
With a supporting cast of Beau Bridges as Brandeis' encouraging single father and Joe Piscopo as - well, as a guy with veins popping out of his neck, this film was pretty much doomed to mediocrity from the start, a cheap knock on the far superior The Karate Kid trilogy.
And yet, somehow, the film works because it is so modest. Sure, it's predictable, and the karate is performed rather haphazardly, but there are a few genuinely entertaining moments: Richard Moll of "Night Court" fame wearing short shorts as the sadomasochistic gym teacher; the surreal Mittyesque daydreams of Brandeis' character, where he and Chuck Norris parody the latter's various action films throughout the years; and the inevitable final fight between Piscopo and Norris, which shows a surprising respect to traditional karate fighting (no Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon kinetics here!)
Ok, this movie is no Casablanca. It's trite, extremely stereotypical fare in terms of dealing with teenagers and heroes and villains, and for 100 minutes, there's a lot of drag. I would, in fact, never recommend this movie to anyone over the age of 14. Still, it's karate, and nothing ever bad came out of a ass-whooping caught on tape.
For anyone who has ever lived in or visited Houston in the past 20 years, this film was produced by none other than Jim McIngvale, or "Mattress Mac" of Gallery Furniture fame.
Chuck Norris .... Himself
Beau Bridges .... Jerry Gabrewski
Jonathan Brandis .... Barry Gabrewski
Mako .... Mr. Lee
Julia Nickson-Soul .... Noreen Chan
Joe Piscopo .... Kelly Stone
Danica McKellar .... Lauren
John Buchanan .... Randy Cellini
Richard Moll .... Horn