Tuesday, 27 July 2010


Roadshow Films
Now Showing

The Special Relationship is a term that has long been applied to the political ties between the White House and 10 Downing Street. Here, in Richard Loncraine's film, it specifically applies to US President Bill Clinton and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair who, from the mid to late 90's enjoyed a political bro-mance; the two centre left progressives bonding over their shared idealism.

Clinton (Dennis Quaid) was already campaigning for a second term in office when Blair (Michael Sheen) swept to power in the UK in the mid 1990s. But they had already met prior to that, where Clinton had predicted and welcomed Blair's victory, which is probably why the Brit leader is seemingly more enamored with the American than is the reverse.

As Blair's star begins to shine on the international scene, and Clinton's takes on a distinctly unpleasant taint thanks to a certain Ms Lewinsky and the threat of impeachment, the bro-mance is at first tested and then, following events in Kosovo led by Slobodan Milosevic, completely soured. Nothing can kill a relationship faster than military intervention.

Produced by, and aired on, the American pay-for-view network, HBO, The Special Relationship, penned by Peter Morgan who also penned The Queen and the other Blair-centric tele-movie, The Deal, plays much more like a small screen rather than a big screen film. Not that the performances are less than.

Quaid may not look like Bill Clinton but he gets his voice right and what you could imagine was his charming, almost boyish way which no doubt led to all sorts of female troubles. And Sheen, who could probably play Blair in his sleep (this is his third outing as the UK leader), still manages to get under the skin of the man who always looks pleased, and a little surprised, to be where he is. Good, too, are Helen McCrory as the no-nonsense Cheri Blair, and Hope Davis as First Lady Hilary Clinton.

And yet there is something lacking in the human dimension; we don't experience these political figures as “real people” in as much the same way we did with Morgan's The Queen, where Sheen, and more specifically Helen Mirren, gave us insight, however imagined, into their interior lives.

Still, as a 90-minute study of politics and the fleetingness of political popularity and allegiances, The Special Relationship is entertaining enough. But for a more entertaining and ultimately scathing take on the Clintons, I recommend Mike Nichols' 1998 film Primary Colours, where John Travolta and Emma Thompson nailed the Clintonesque couple in all their light and shade.

Monday, 26 July 2010


Roadshow Distribution
Now Showing

It seems you can't make a rom-com any more unless there are guns, car chases and the threat that someone's heart may burst, literally. Following on from The Bounty Hunter and Knight and Day, Killers also has its romantic protagonists – Katherine Heigl and Ashton Kutcher – in all sorts of mortal danger but unlike the former, there's actually some fun to be had, and, unlike the latter, there's a believable sexual attraction between the two.

Jen (Heigl) and Spence (Kutcher) meet cute in Nice, France where she is vacationing with her parents (Tom Selleck and Catherine O'Hara) and he's working ie killing bad guys for the C.I.A. But Spence wants out of the professional killing game and believes he can have a normal life with Jen.

Cut to three years later and the pair are happily ensconced in suburbia, not far from her parents' house. Spence works in construction but its when he gets a package from his former boss requesting a meet and one final mission that his old life comes back to bite him in the ass.

Suddenly weird but hitherto uncomplicated friends and neighbours are packing weapons and trying to bring Spence in: he has a bounty for $20 million on his head. It's a rude awakening for Jen who has been blissfully unaware of her husband's past but her shock and terror has the edge taken off somewhat by an equally scary prospect – motherhood.

Robert Luketic, the Aussie director who hit it big with Legally Blonde but has made middling fare – Monster-In-Law, The Ugly Truth – since, kicks the film up a gear when the guns start going off but the rom and the com are still fairly thin on the ground. Kutcher and Heigl make for a photogenic couple (Kutcher certainly hit the gym hard for this role) but once the action starts Heigl's Jen becomes a shrill shrieker and you begin praying - against hope, because you know it won't happen – that she may take a bullet.

There's no denying Killers is fun, of sorts, but there's not a lot to it and it ends rather abruptly in an unlikely happy families scenario (the revelation of a key character's day job is as plain as the moustache on his face), where everything can be hugged out in truth circle, whatever the hell that is.


Madman Films
Now Showing

In most US reviews for Richard Linklater's Me and Orson Welles, Christian McKay's name was rarely mentioned without the words 'Oscar nomination' closely following. A nod for Best Supporting Actor failed to materialise but as always, that says more about the Academy than the performance for McKay gives a towering one as the legendary man of stage, radio and screen, Orson Welles.

Linklater's film is more concerned with his theatre work at New York's Mercury Theatre. It's 1937 and Welles' troupe of actors are in rehearsals for a post-modern take on Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. And the play's the thing, as the Bard once wrote. But as much as Welles loves Shakespeare, he loves the sound of his own voice more: he's a control freak. But then how else could the man just four years later write, produce, direct and star in Citizen Kane, still considered by many to be the greatest film ever made?

We're introduced to the world of Welles and the theatre through the eyes of Richard (Zac Efron, moving ever slightly away from his teen heart throb status), a high schooler with aspirations of being an actor. He happens by the theatre one day while the troupe are on the street and lands himself a walk-on part in the production. Like everyone, Richard is seduced by the magnetic Welles but he's also taken with theatre go-to girl Sonja (a radiant Claire Danes). Thus begins a love affair with the theatre, and Sonya. And a rivalry, for Welles, too, has a thing for Sonja.

Linklater's film is a wonderfully enjoyable piece of period and nostalgia, the centrepiece of which is McKay's performance. Oscar may have poor taste (here's looking at you, Bullock!) but the BAFTAs (a nomination) and the San Francisco Film Critics (they awarded him their gong for Supporting Actor) know their stuff. Check him out for yourself.

Monday, 19 July 2010


Roadshow Films
Now Showing

Whether or not it is the best film of the year, as some critics and public have already declared Christopher Nolan's new film, there's no denying that Inception will be the most talked about, debated and argued over in 2010. And for many years to come, especially the ending although I'm getting ahead of myself.

Essentially a heist film but with more layers than an Adriano Zumbo creation, Inception's basic premise is simple enough: Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a master extractor, someone who can retrieve secrets from the deepest recesses of one's mind by entering it during a dream state. After impressing Japanese billionaire Mr Saito (Ken Watanabe) with his skills, Cobb and his team are hired to do the reverse: not extract but plant an idea. The target is the son and heir of Saito's business rival. The idea: to break up and thus destroy the rival's empire.

Like I said, simple enough. But dreams are much easier to enter if you know how they'll look, so Cobb hires a young architect (Ellen Page) to design an entire world for the team to navigate. Dreams can also be gatecrashed by other people's subconscious, apparently, and Cobb's deceased wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard), continually makes her presence felt at the most inopportune times.

The second half of Inception (it's 147 minutes total) is taken up with the mission, as Cobb and his team descend from one level of subconscious to the next – at one point the team is functioning in four different levels – in an effort to plant the idea, all the while battling their hosts subconscious security measures and Cobb's emotional demons.

Don't be upset if you don't have a complete grasp on everything that's happening. Anyone who says they do, and who isn't Christopher Nolan, is almost certainly lying. But you don't have to be a philosopher or rocket scientist to get, or get lost in, Inception.

Also, don't be perturbed if you find you're in the minority with your friends and don't like Inception. And by like I of course mean love with a passion. There are already some sections of the online film community declaring Nolan's film a masterpiece, the best film of the year and the only possible winner of this year's Best Picture Oscar.

And much like these sections of people had little time for anyone who didn't have the same opinion of Nolan's previous film, The Dark Knight – another summer blockbuster that dared to inject smarts and moral complexity into its big budget framework – they're more or less closed to any other opinion: if you don't love it you're a fool and a hater.

That is, of course, nonsense. One can admire a film without really loving or even liking it. And there is much to admire with Inception, if only from a purely technical viewpoint. Beautiful to look at, impressive imagery and a fantastic score. And the performances are uniformly good.

DiCaprio continues his run of tortured souls after Revolutionary Road and Shutter Island (an earlier 2010 film that may draw comparisons with Inception). Marion Cotillard, whom I'm continually falling for, is the film's much needed emotional core, and Ellen Page, a fine actress, makes the most of her underwritten role. Nolan's writing also suffered similarly in the two Batman films with the Rachel Dawes character, played by Katie Holmes then Maggie Gyllenhaal; proof that the director is not perfect.

But like like all art, Inception is about what you bring to it just as much as it is about what the artist (Nolan) had in mind. It can be as as deep as you want it to be. And whether that's 'The Matrix meets James Bond', in reference to the film's action filled second half, or something a little more complex and philosophical, depends entirely on the state of mind you're in when you see it. And that opinion will change, for my guess is people will see it more than once. I certainly plan to.


20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Available now on DVD and Blu-ray

Jeff Bridges erased his name from the list of 'great actors never to have won and Oscar' earlier this year when he – finally – collected the gold statuette for his performance here as Bad Blake. A washed-up country music singer whose career is in the proverbial toilet, reduced to playing bars on the backroads, Blake's fall from grace is compounded by the success of his one-time protege (Colin Farrell). But everything could change with the love of a good woman, in the guise of single mother and budding music journalist, Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Gyllenhaal also scored an Oscar nod (her first) for this film but it's Bridges' show all the way.


Madman Entertainment
Available now on Blu-ray and DVD

Revenge may be sweet but it's also hollow. Joe Griffin (James Nesbitt) has allowed his thirst for vengeance to simultaneously sustain him whilst draining him of any enjoyment his life, which includes a wife and two young daughters, could provide. As an 11-year-old, Joe witnessed the murder of his older brother at the hands of an IRA guman and has been haunted ever since.

Killing the man who fired the gun and giving him “five minutes of heaven” has been the one thought keeping him going for 30 years. That man, Alistair Little (Liam Neeson), despite his polished appearance and work in counselling, has been similarly haunted. He served 12 years in prison for his crime but wants to acknowledge Griffin's pain in a more substantial manner. That's why he agrees to a face-to-face television interview with Griffin where the producers, while not saying so in as many words, are hoping for fireworks between the two men.

Despite the strong performances of both Neeson (a rare dramatic outing between Taken and The A-Team) and Nesbitt (proving he can do drama as well as comedy), Oliver Hirschbiegel's Five Minutes of Heaven feels more like a film version of a two man play than an actual film. There's a lot of talk – and monologuing – which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but when the two men finally meet it is both dramatic and anti-climactic. Then again, that could be the point: the idea and anticipation of vengeance is far more fulfilling than the act.


Madman Entertainment
Available now on DVD and Blu-ray

Like the best movies about sex, Lynn Shelton's Humpday is all talk, no action. So, too, are her protagonists: Ben (Mark Duplass), and Andrew (Joshua Leonard), who were best buds in college but have drifted apart in the intervening decade or so.

Ben is happily married and living a suburban life with babies a regular topic of conversation between he and his wife, Anna (Alycia Delmore). Andrew has not settled down. He leads a nomadic, somewhat bohemian, existence with no roots and no ties.

It's during their reunion that Ben and Andrew discover just how much they've changed in those years apart but in a bid to prove to themselves, as much as to each other, that they're still those fun loving dudes from college, they decide to enter an annual pornographic film competition where they will have sex with each other. “It's beyond gay,” they tell themselves, and anyone who'll listen, including a very confused but surprisingly understanding Anna, “it's art”.

I first saw Humpday at the 2009 Sydney Film Festival and it was, for me, one of the highlights. But Lynn Shelton's comedy failed to receive a theatrical release in Australia, again more about the means of distribution in this country as opposed to the quality of this and other films which suffer similar fates.

Shelton's film goes far deeper into the male psyche and its concepts of mateship and sexuality than anything you'll see exhibited by the manchilds in the films of Judd Apatow and his ilk. Admittedly it's no frills filmmaking, with no stars and a shoestring budget. And (spoiler alert) no sex. Like I stated earlier, Shelton is satisfied to discuss more than show; characters talk to rather than speak at each other.

That can be uncomfortable for some people, especially the boys who require an explosion every 10 minutes. And despite the humour, those same “boys” may be just as uncomfortable with the content of the chatter as much as the quantity.


Available now on DVD and Blu-ray

Bourne Forever? You could be forgiven for thinking this was the fourth installment in the Bourne series of films, given the re-teaming of leading man Matt Damon with Bourne #2 and #3 director Paul Greengrass. But Green Zone, for all its weapons and intrigue, is no Bourne film. Nor is it entirely fiction.

Based on events early in the US led invasion of Iraq this decade, Green Zone tells of military leader Miller's (Damon) growing disillusionment with his government and their mission in the Middle East, with intel continually proving to be wrong while the powers-that-be, living it up in luxury at hotels and former Saddam palaces in Baghdad, don't seem particularly interested in Miller's questions and doubts about the reliability of the anonymous informant who is supposedly the source for the bad intel.

For those who like their action thrillers with a pointed political agenda. Brendan Gleeson, Greg Kinnear and Amy Ryan also star.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010


Icon Film Distribution
Now Showing

Perhaps acknowledging how hard it is to faithfully yet entertainingly depict the creative process on the big screen, especially when it comes to writers, the team behind Creation have opted to focus more on the domestic turmoils of Charles Darwin at the time of writing the book that would change the world: On The Origin of Species.

“Congratulations, you've killed God,” fellow author Thomas Huxley (Toby Jones) tells Darwin (Paul Bettany) with undisguised glee after reading an early draft. Not that that was Darwin's intention, for his wife, Emma (real life partner Jennifer Connelly), is a devout believer. But as a scientist, and more importantly, as a grieving father, having lost his eldest and favoured child, Annie, Darwin has little time for an all powerful God nor does he take comfort in the thought of an afterlife.

There are some wonderful moments between Darwin and Annie - some are flashbacks, others are delusions brought on by Darwin's own failing health - as the naturalist struggles to reconcile his wife's beliefs with both his scientific mind and his broken heart. Completing the book literally comes down to a question of publish and be damned, or rather, damned if he does, damned if he doesn't.

For a brief period following its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival last year, it looked as though Creation would fail to land a US distributor; many believing that such a “controversial” film would not find favour in a country where a great deal of the population believe in the creation myth (that God created the world in six days, resting on the seventh).

But it was eventually picked up and released, and while it failed to do anything impressive at the box office, I'd wager that has more to do with the package (biopic/period piece) than its so called troubling content.

Not that Creation is at all controversial or even button pushing. It is very much a domestic period drama and a beautifully mounted one at that. Any insights it may give into the life and works of Charles Darwin are on a purely personal level, which makes the film both engaging, and even affecting, but not particularly political let alone heretical.

Friday, 9 July 2010


Hopscotch Films
Now Showing

Time was, young Westerners ventured to India seeking spiritual awakening. Fiona (Radha Mitchell) and Simon (Joel Edgerton) have come to India for another form of fulfillment: to adopt a baby girl. It's while waiting for the adoption to clear the Indian bureaucracy that the cracks in the couple's relationships begin to widen.

Claire McCarthy's directorial debut (she also penned the screenplay) is more about the state of this marriage than it is about the question of Westerners adopting from overseas or even adoption itself. It's more concerned with what people will do to be happy or to fill a void. Some choose religion or spirituality, hence such journeys to India; Fiona thinks a baby will do the trick.

A successful lawyer, Fiona already feels as though she has her mothering skills down pat; in her relationship with Simon, a musician, she has always assumed the responsible, parental role. While not exactly a kidult, Simon appears as though he's still in his university days. He writes and performs music for the love of it; hitting the big time would be great but life's pretty sweet anyway.

Of course, holed up in an Indian hotel for over a week all manner of resentments – of each other and of one's self – can't help but bubble to the surface. And if the couple weren't already at breaking point, when they finally get to meet their prospective daughter everything is brought into harsh perspective.

I'm not exactly sure what McCarthy's intent was with The Waiting City: an essay on adoption or a study of a marriage in meltdown? I certainly don't think it succeeds as the former, and as the latter, Fiona and Simon are no Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton from Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf, or Kate and Leo from Revolutionary Road.

And despite the denouement, I wasn't moved by the experience either. That isn't to say Edgerton, Mitchell (who also exec produced the film) and McCarthy don't invest the film with emotion. Or blood, sweat and tears. Shooting on location in India can't have been easy and the film certainly looks good, and not in a travelogue kind of way.


20th Century Fox
Now Showing

It probably made a lot of sense to cast Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz as the leads in Knight and Day. Their screen presence, by which I mean star wattage, go a long way to distracting from, if not entirely smoothing over, the plot holes and overall silliness at the heart of this action-romance, helmed by James Mangold, best known for directing the musical biopic, Walk The Line (2005).

My main problem with Tom Cruise has always been that Tom Cruise is a movie star. That is to say, no matter what film, what genre and what guise I see him in, all I ever see is Tom Cruise. That isn't to say that he can't act or has not given some fine, memorable performances: A Few Good Men, Jerry Maguire and Magnolia certainly standout, as does his comic turn as movie producer, Les Grossman, in Tropic Thunder. But he's always Tom Cruise.

Cameron Diaz also suffers similarly in my eyes, for more often than not she plays not-so-ditzy, klutzy, highly likeable gals in lightweight rom-coms. Rare ventures into drama have failed to convince (coming off as shrill in last year's My Sister's Keeper), although uglying up in Being John Malkovich proved more successful.

But Diaz isn't ugly in Knight and Day, and nor is Cruise, both baring well toned bodies and beaming sets of teeth that do the American dental system proud. They meet-cute at the beginning of the film where they literally bump into each other at the airport. June Havers (Diaz) is headed home for her sister's wedding but bridesmaid duties are put on hold when Roy Miller (Cruise) turns out to be a rogue secret agent. He kills everyone on board their plane (they're also agents) before crash landing in a cornfield.

So begins a global chase as June becomes caught up in Roy's attempts to protect a young scientist (Paul Dano) who has created a new power source that everybody wants to get a hold of. Not that the specifics much matter; it's all about seeing Cruise and Diaz in exotic locales as they run, shoot and explode their way out of trouble with fine actors such as Dano, Viola Davis and Peter Sarsgaard left in their wake.

Not that Knight and Day is without it's fun moments. It's enjoyable enough while you're watching it but very little of it will stick with you once you exit the theatre. I certainly could have done with a little more witty repartee between Cruise and Diaz who have undeniable chemistry, although more of the brother-sister variety than sexual.

But they certainly make for a much more entertaining couple - and Knight and Day a far more rewarding action-romance film - than Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler in this year's earlier release, The Bounty Hunter. Comparatively speaking, the two films are very much as different as night and day.


Hoyts Distribution
Now Showing

I'd never heard of The Runaways, the all-girl rock group fronted by Cherie Currie and boasting guitarist Joan Jett, before this film. Jett I had heard of: who doesn't know her signature tune I Love Rock and Roll? That was a post-Runaways hit for Jett, once the girls had crashed and burned after indulging in the excesses of the 1970s rock scene.

Those scenes of excess, which include all manner of drug use and some girl-on-girl action in Floria Sigismondi's film, may disturb some who only know Dakota Fanning (who plays Currie) and Kristen Stewart (as Jett) from their more "innocent" film roles; it certainly feels like only yesterday that Fanning was on the farm with Wilbur the pig in Charlotte's Web.

These are two of the most impressive young actresses working today (in spite of their efforts in the Twilight films) and it's fascinating to watch their evolution. Less fascinating is other people's drug-fuelled trips. Like being at a pub and the only one not drinking, watching other people's intoxicated behviour can only sustain one's interest for so long, and so it is here.

But there's always the music of The Runaways (Fanning and Stewart do their own singing) to keep you entertained, and the seemingly authentic portrayal of the '70s music scene. And there's Michael Shannon (an Oscar nominee for Revolutionary Road) who chews scenery in his portrayal of manager Kim Fowley. Fowley is the kind of guy who has the neighbourhood kids throw beer bottles and dog poo at the girls as they rehearse for gigs.

He also sends them out on the road, more or less to fend for themselves; The Runaways are a hit in Japan thanks to the song Cherry Bomb. But it's partly the being left to their own devices which contributes to their downfall. That Currie (who wrote the book which informs Sigismondi's film) and Jett (who executive produced), survived has more to do with good luck than good management.

I don't imagine too many Twi-hards will be drawn to The Runaways, K-Stew or not. But her punkesque demeanor here suggests that she may more than adequately fill the role of Lisbeth Salander - the goth computer hacker heroine of the Millenium trilogy books – when director David Fincher gets round to filming the American version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

Monday, 5 July 2010


Hoyts Distribution
Now Showing

“If you like this kind of thing, it’s the kind of thing you’ll like”. That’s perhaps a lazy way of responding to someone’s question about a film (or anything, really) that you don’t have a particularly strong feeling for one way or the other. And so at the risk of being lazy, and incurring the wrath of Twi-hards everywhere, if Twilight is the kind of film you’ll like, then you’ll like Eclipse.

Ney, love. For people who devour the Stephenie Myer books, and the films on which they are based, don’t just like Twilgiht, they love it. LOVE IT! I haven’t read the books which may explain some of my detachment (apathy?) towards this vampire teen romance “saga”, but then I shouldn’t have to have read the source material to like the film: Eclipse, and indeed any book-to-film adaptation, should succeed on its own terms as a film. And for me, the Twilight films do not.

Admittedly, I found Eclipse to be slightly more involving than its predecessors, Twilight and New Moon, perhaps because it is not so bogged down in the teen love triangle – between vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), werewolf Jacob (Taylor ‘ab-master’ Lautner), and mortal Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) – which fuels the storyline, and the hearts of adolescent girls (of all ages) who have made the books and films such a worldwide phenomenon.

I’m not sure how much of this new focus has to do with director David Slade (the third director in as many films; Bill ‘Dreamgirls’ Condon will direct the final instalment, Breaking Dawn), who’s no stranger to vampire films having directed 30 Days of Night. There’s certainly more action in Eclipse, although you have to wait until the third act for the climactic battle, where the good vampires and the werewolves, forming an uneasy alliance, take on an army (which consists of no more than 20!) of newborn vampires.

These newbies are in the service of Victoria (played here by Bryce Dallas Howard, herself a Twilight newbie), a vamp who has sworn to exact revenge on Bella since film one, something to do with the death of her beloved. None of that much matters for you’ll either know what the hell is going on or you won’t be in the theatre.


20th Century Fox
Now Showing

Predators – a sequel of sorts to the Predator films which began in the '80s with Arnie in a South American jungle facing off with an almost invisible foe; an alien designed to hunt and kill – had the potential to be a guilty pleasure, especially given director Robert Rodriguez's involvement.

But any hopes of a rip-snorting action film to match the spine-ripping action of the said aliens is soon dashed. Wit is not the forte of the writers, Alex Litvik and Michael Finch, and nor is character; here a rag tag bunch of soldiers, crims and transgressors, ranging from the US, Chechnya, Mexico, Africa and Japan. Then again, the predator doesn't have much of a personality either, only ever emoting when he's not happy.

These eight have been transported to another planet where they become the prey in an unpleasant game of cat and mouse devised by a group of these aliens. Royce (Adrien Brody), a mercenary for hire, becomes their unofficial leader but Brody, a fine actor who has an Oscar (for The Pianist), and deservedly so, failed to convince me as an action tough guy, he's certainly no Arnie. And his Christian Bale-Dark Knight grumble doesn't help his cause.

Naturally the team of eight are picked off one by one and it's disappointing that even with Rodriguez's involvement, it's the black man and the Mexican who cop it in the neck first (and no surprises who survives).

I'm not sure that the Predator franchise required a reboot; I'd have thought that the Alien V Predator films were the final nail in that coffin. Then again, Ridley Scott is planning two prequels to his classic Alien film, so anything he can do they can do cheaper and faster.

We also seem to be experiencing, for better or worse (worse in my opinion), a return to 1980s TV and film as a source of “inspriration” for studio films. Predators, like most of these other reboots, in not inspired.


Sony Pictures
Now Showing

Going in, The Karate Kid already had two strikes against it: it’s a remake (or ‘homage’ as the producers would have us believe) and it has a running time of 140 minutes (e-gads!). As I’ve not seen the original Karate Kid (I’ve seen bits and pieces here and there), my dislike for a remake stems from a disapproval of Hollywood’s increasing lack of originality rather than any nostalgic attachment to the 1984 film, which saw Ralph Macchio take on some local bullies with the help of an old Japanese sensei, Mr Miyagi (an Oscar-nominated Pat Morita).

If you didn’t already know, the 2010 ‘homage’ takes place not in the US but China which accounts for the film’s unnecessary length: if the producers had dispensed with the ‘Travel China’ montages (see the Great Wall, see the Bird’s Nest Stadium, see Tiananmen Square; well, maybe not) they could have brought it in under two hours.

Those producers include Will Smith and wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, so it’s no surprise their son, Jaden, plays the titular role. Dre (Smith) arrives in Beijing when his mother (Taraji P. Henson, Benjamin Button’s mum in a previous incarnation) accepts a job in a car manufacturing plant, although what she does exactly we’re never told: is she on the production line? Within hours of his arrival he’s met a whiter than white kid (who then goes AWOL for most of the movie), become smitten with an aspiring musician, and become the focus of the local bullies who are proficient in the art of karate . . . I mean, kung fu. Karate is Japanese, this is China, the film’s not a remake but they borrowed the name however misleading . . .

Anyway, Dre needs help in defending himself and as luck would have it, the handy man in his apartment complex, Mr Han (Jackie Chan), knows a thing or two about kung fu (hey, it’s China, everyone does!). Cue the training montages (and Travel China promos) as Dre and Mr Han prepare themselves for a tournament that will either make or literally break the young Amercian.

Ok, I’ll admit I’m being glib for the fun of it, for much to my surprise The Karate Kid isn’t an entirely bad film, in fact it’s quite serviceable and even enjoyable. Young Smith is likeable enough and Chan gets one of his better English speaking roles; it’s no secret Hollywood has been unkind to the Hong Kong kung fu maestro over the last decade or so.

Fans of the original, however, may not be as pleased with the results. Some local parenting groups certainly aren’t; they’ve got themselves in a flap over the film’s original M rating being downgraded to PG. For them the violence is apparently too much: won’t somebody think of the children! My guess is the only problem your children will have with The Karate Kid is sitting still for 140 minutes. Ritalin, anyone?