There’s no way to talk about Karate Kid Part III without, pardon the expression, kicking it while it’s down. There are no good performances, no good technical aspects, no interesting writing, nothing. Pat Morita doesn’t humiliate himself, mostly because he seems disgusted at the whole thing, which is at least understandable.
The film takes place sometime after Part II, with Morita and Ralph Macchio returning from Okinawa in time for Macchio to start college. However, Macchio doesn’t start college; instead, he takes his tuition and starts a bonsai shop for Morita. The bonsai shop is ostensibly Morita’s life’s dream, forgetting the last movie when he was going to bring his long-lost love back to the States with him. They don’t address that change—nor how his old rival was going to rebuild their village, something Morita apparently paid for somehow—but they do mention Tamlyn Tomita had something better to do than show up for Part III. Another Macchio love interest who leaves him hanging just when the next movie’s about to start.
It opens Macchio up for a not-romance with Robyn Lively, who’s somehow exceptionally bad but nowhere near as bad as most of the performances. There’s no romance because Lively’s too young in real life to have almost thirty Macchio groping her, even though she’s seemingly playing older than him on screen. Also younger than Macchio but playing older than him is main villain Thomas Ian Griffith. Griffith’s an old Vietnam buddy of Martin Kove, who’s only occasionally in the movie because he had a real job at the time.
Kove’s better than anyone besides Morita in the movie, including Macchio, but he’s still far from good. He’s just not cartoonishly absurd like Griffith and the other bad guys. Those other bad guys are the bad karate kids; well, Sean Kanan (holy cow, he got another job after this movie; don’t let anyone tell you white guys don’t fail upward) is a karate kid. Jonathan Avildsen (director Avildsen gave his son a part, and Avildsen fils is one of the worst actors to appear in a studio theatrical release ever) and William Christopher Ford are apparently the teenage boys wealthy industrialist Griffith keeps around his house for beating up during his karate practice.
The movie’s first hour is all about Macchio and Morita trying to get the bonsai shop off the ground, but Kanan keeps beating up Macchio to get him to sign up for a karate tournament. It’s part of Griffith’s revenge plan. Then, after the bad karate kids tell Macchio—amongst other things—they’re going to rape Lively, Macchio relents and agrees to the tournament fight. He ends up training with Griffith because Morita doesn’t think you should do karate just for a tournament. It’s unclear what Morita thinks they should do about Kanan terrorizing them, but since the whole bonsai shop seems like something Macchio forces Morita into… maybe it’s just no big loss.
Again, Morita’s not engaging with this movie. In a film with occasionally phoned-in performances (they couldn’t bring Randee Heller back for actual scenes, so she cameos during a phone call), it’s not a surprise.
Macchio and Lively talk a whole lot, jabbering their way through scenes; Part III has a risible script, but Avildsen’s direction’s even worse than Robert Mark Kamen’s writing, which is a feat. Avildsen’s composition is uninspired, tedious, and rarely even middling, but his direction of the actors is a film crime. Maybe Morita’s supposed to be mirroring Avildsen’s attitude.
Terrible Bill Conti score.
Karate Kid Part III’s the pits. It’s mostly just Macchio convincing everyone the first movie was a fluke, and franchising it was a terrible, terrible mistake.