Way before “Million Dollar Baby” was a gleam in Clint Eastwood’s eyes, Hilary Swank showed off her scrappy side in “The Next Karate Kid.”
The fourth and final (at least for now) installment in the coming-of-age franchise is tucked into Sony Pictures Home Entertainment’s “Karate Kid” set almost as an afterthought — it doesn’t even rate its own disc — but is far more interesting to Oscar watchers than the original 1984 release, which rates a special edition treatment, complete with commentary and bonsai featurette, in this three-disc set.
Swank’s perf as a troubled orphan who regains her footing through karate training uncannily foreshadowing her Oscar-nommed work in Eastwood’s boxing tale 10 years later. Sure, the setup is hokey: Her grandfather saved Mr. Miyagi, Pat Morita’s wise karate master, in WWII, and her grandfather taught those moves to her late father, who passed them on to her before dying in a car crash.
But the same plucky determination and athletic drive shines through “The Next Karate Kid” as “Million Dollar Baby.”
The rest of the pic is boilerplate coming-of-age sequel, down to the strained reason for Miyagi’s return to his old stomping grounds in L.A. with his new charge in tow.
As for the original, it serves best as time capsule fodder, down to Ralph Macchio’s scrawny build and feathered ‘do, plus an equally dewy Elisabeth Shue as the love interest.
It would be several more years before Swank earned a regular gig on “Melrose Place,” and a few more before she went AC/DC for “Boys Don’t Cry,” but “The Next Karate Kid” remains a telling tale of the thesp’s particular charms.