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The Karate Kid: Outsider No More

July 6, 2004

Dan and I were recently discussing which celebrities should be included on a list simply called the "Biggest Sellout Douche" (see sidebar). Our stipulations for inclusion were the following:

  1. Each must have possessed a certain level of credible respect at one time. If they were marching down the rose-sprinkled sellout path from day one like Nickelback, Freddie Prinze Jr. or any contestant on American Idol, they do not belong on this list.
  2. They must still have a lucrative career. "Has-Been Douche" is a different category entirely, and home to the likes of Rod Stewart and Tara Reid.
  3. Each must have been able to sustain a respectable career without selling out, yet still chose to auction their soul. (Daddy Day Care? Why, Eddie, WHY?)
The Outsiders Some were gimmes, like Affleck and Aykroyd. However, we had trouble with others like the Power Toms (Hanks and Cruise). These are truly douches, but they will never be true sellouts. They were simply born to suck the public's dick. That got me thinking about Tom Cruise and his big break with The Outsiders. What was it about Tom in particular that led to an oiled torso in Top Gun and his remarkable ability to shake up that perfect Cocktail? Why didn't the rest of The Outsiders cast fare as well as America's most beloved and closeted megawatt grin? C. Thomas Howell went on to be Soul Man (ouch) and Rob Lowe videotaped himself having sex with underage girls. Emilio Estevez found himself married to Paula Abdul while she was in the throes of an eating disorder and sporting that "elongated" look in the Promise of a New Day video - the one where she's dancing in a cornfield or whatever. As for the others...

The Karate Kid I was home sick the other day and, after sleeping all that I could sleep, I decided to check out what television had to offer in the way of daytime movies. I can always count on Hollywood to pull me out of the sore throat doldrums. As luck would have it, my throat chose the right day to inflame; I had the whole afternoon to bask in the cinematic brilliance of yet another Outsider: Ralph Macchio as The Karate Kid.

When The Karate Kid came out in 1984, I got the issue of Tiger Beat from my school library that featured a centerfold of Ralph in all his machismo glory. I remember being crushed that he was 22 years old, and not 15 as portrayed in the know, because as an 8 year old, I had a chance and all. My friends and I thought he was dreamy (dreamy, but not Corey Haim dreamy, mind you).

The Karate Kid is a classic fish out of water story about a poor boy who likes a rich girl. It also involves a high school motorcycle karate gang (of course) and an old Japanese janitor/karate master who has a stockpile of antique cars parked in his front yard.

Ralph Maccio Billy Ralph is Daniel Larusso, everyone's favorite Italian transplant from Jersey. Before you can bounce a soccer ball on one knee, he's caught the eye of Ali Mills (Elisabeth Shue), rich girl from the Hills. Elisabeth "Don't fuck with the Babysitter" Shue also happens to be the sister of Andrew Shue who was Billy on Melrose Place, one of my least favorite characters on one of my favorite guilty pleasures. I've mentioned this before, but when you're over 30 and still called "Billy" (even if it's just a character), you wallow in the shameful ranks of Danny Pintauro and Danny DeVito.

Zabka = Asshole In the process of meeting the girl of his dreams, Daniel has also managed to piss off Johnny, Ali's ex-boyfriend and thug leader of the Cobra Kai Gang. Two words that make The Karate Kid worthwhile cinema: William Zabka (aka BILLY Zabka...damn you). Zabka was invariably the asshole in every movie in which he appeared. You may know him as Jack, chunky Audrey's asshole boyfriend from American Lampoon's European Vacation or the asshole jock in Just One of the Guys. If these don't ring a bell, rest assured, he was also the asshole bully in Back to School. No wonder the guy disappeared from the public radar -- he was probably getting spit at on the street.

Let's briefly discuss the theme song. Whenever I hear Bananarama's Cruel Summer I think of two things:

  1. Galaxy Roller Rink and
  2. Daniel's near constant ass beating at the hands of the Cobra Kai.
Galaxy is a favorite memory from my childhood. I recall that my dad's capped front teeth distincly glowed in the rink's black light. This is where I hosted my ninth birthday party and enjoyed the queenly luxury of being pushed around in a giant skate, waving to all my adoring fans. We rented out the whole place and, since my birthday is in August, it was hard to track down friends during the summer...I think five girls showed up. That was my last attempt at an organized birthday party.

Sensei David Hasslehoff

Meanwhile, Daniel's few lessons at the Newark YMCA did not prepare him for the roundhouse stylings of Johnny, Dutch, Jimmy, Bobby and Tommy. As the song would have it, Daniel faced a very cruel summer indeed. The Cobra Kai received karate instruction from their David Hasselhoff look-alike Sensei, John Kreese (Martin Kove). Fear does not exist in this dojo. Damn right it doesn't.

Mr. Miagi likes Lipton Soon, Daniel meets Mr. Miyagi, aka Pat Morita. Mr. Miyagi is the fix-it man for the apartment complex and, conveniently, is a master of karate. I knew the apocalypse had arrived when I later saw Pat doing the "crane technique" in a Lipton Sizzle & Stir commercial with Sally Jesse Raphael, Little Richard and Chuck Woolery. Word has it that he first rejected the role of Mr. Miyagi because he had a "no comedy" clause in his contract. Money talks, bitches.

Mr. Miyagi comes to Daniel-san's rescue when the Cobra Kai boys are again kicking the shit out of him after the school Halloween dance. San Francisco has a huge Halloween street party and one of the best things I ever saw there was a re-enactment of this scene. No one quite knew what to make of the little wimp pushing his way through the crowd as four guys dressed like skeletons chased after him. When they tackled him and unleashed a flurry of punches and kicks, a murmur rose up among the onlookers. Should we help him? What's going on? It wasn't until a pair of arms gracefully rose overhead and a swift kick was delivered to the jaw that we knew The Karate Kid had prevailed.

Skeletons kicking Daniel's ass

Miyagi's heroics eventually lead to a lot of finger pointing from David Hasselhoff and the promise of a match between Daniel and Johnny at the big Karate Tournament. Daniel's got his work cut out for him. Bonsai!

I'm angry with you.

In between sessions of Sand de Floor and Paint de Fence, Daniel finds time to whisk Ali off in the family station wagon (with his mom, no less) for a romantic evening at Golf N' Stuff. Believe me, this is every girl's dream. He makes a spectacular first impression on her parents by destroying part of their brick entryway. Ali's friends regard him as a turd.

Elizabeth Shue As for his Miyagi karate training, it has come time to learn balance. All of Daniel's 90 pounds are thrust into the great Pacific as he struggles to master the beginning lesson of Crane Technique. He doesn't have a prayer.

Crane stance Daniel makes a date to meet Ali outside the Encino Oaks Country Club after she has dinner with her parents. At the behest of her folks Zabka appears seemingly to make amends. Meanwhile, to find out why she is late, Daniel decides to sneak in through the kitchen. Spying Daniel peering through the kitchen window, Zabka makes his big move and rams his tongue down Ali's throat as Daniel watches, horrified. Madcap hilarity ensues as a waiter collision results in the besmirching of Daniel's entirely white outfit with spaghetti sauce stains. According to the movie's time line, this scene occurs during the winter months. Are we to regard him as a soiled angel or just as a dipshit wearing white way after Labor Day? To the din of uproarious laughter, Daniel flees the scene, failing to witness the punch Zabka takes in the lip.

He's lost his girl, he's lost the rest of his dignity and Daniel-san celebrates his sweet sixteen alone with Mr. Miyagi. However, the Old Man has a surprise for him and graciously grants Daniel the choice of a car off the "Miyagi Lot." Now with renewed confidence, Daniel figures there's only one way to regain Ali's trust after the misunderstanding at Encino Oaks: show off his sweet new ride at Golf N' Stuff. (Don't these people have anywhere better they can hang out? You can only play Dragon's Lair so many times.) So yeah, blah blah, Daniel wins her back and everything is super fantastic. But wait! What about the Tournament? Yikes, it's tomorrow!

McQueen, Jr. Daniel arrives freshly laid (can we assume?) and eager on the morning of the Big Day. But, uh oh, here come Johnny and his henchmen. Dutch delivers the ultimate PG-rated threat stating that "Danielle" will, in fact, be Dead Meat before the Tournament is over. He even says it twice. The role of Dutch was beautifully acted by Steve McQueen's son, Chad. Given that the elder McQueen received martial arts instruction from none other than Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee, I imagine he would have been very proud of his son's performance. Chad McQueen's sole line was definitely a show-stealer.

Predictably, Daniel's underdog status does not slow down his aptitude for winning match after match. He defeats lesser of the Cobra Kai until he is set to fight not only Tommy, but Tommy's awesome feathered hair. David Hasselhoff finally reveals his true penchant for the darkside when he instructs Tommy to put Daniel "out of commission." Strike first, strike hard, no mercy sir!

Cobra Kai Per Tommy's blow, Daniel suffers a broken leg. Will he be able to face Johnny for the final match? You bet your ass he will, especially after Miyagi serves up the Healing Powers of Two Palms Rubbing Together. When I was 10 years old and nearly lost my leg in a tragic boating accident, my father acted swiftly with the proven Miyagi Method. I miraculously healed on the spot.

"Daniel Larusso is going to fight! Daniel Larusso is going to fight!" The crowd titters with excitement.

And so here it is, the big moment: Daniel's showdown with Johnny. He hobbles to the mat on his makeshift Miyagi leg. One point - Larusso! Second point - Larusso! It looks like a sure thing for our boy. Wait, hold on - Sensei David Hasselhoff motions for a time-out in order to deliver the best line of the whole movie:

"Sweep the leg."

And there you have it: PURE UNADULTERATED EVIL a la Germany's favorite lifeguarding sensei. Johnny sweeps the leg indeed, leaving Daniel a slobbering mess on the mat. Is it really over this time? Has the last bell tolled? The suspense is brutal. I can't imagine that Daniel can pull it off, can you?

So yeah, we all know the ending, but my one question: how the hell did Johnny not see this one coming? And if Daniel's leg was so fucked up, how did he manage to kick with it? I suppose this just speaks of the true powers of Miyagi Sun Karate. BONSAIIIIIIII!


I'm not going to get into the train wreck that is the rest of The Karate Kid franchise - Parts II, III and The Next Karate Kid starring Hilary Swank...which I actually saw in the theater. However, per the interest of the curious, I want to mention that Sensei Hasselhoff and Miyagi have a hootnanny of a fight in the opening sequence of Part II. This was originally meant to be the bigger, grander finale of Part I...sigh, if only. AND, if you're a big Zabka fan, he also briefly appears in this scene. So go rent it right now, because even the cable networks like USA shy away from post-Part I Karate Kid. Until then, I eagerly await William Zabka's participation in the Surreal Life Part 27, or co-starring in a commercial for beef-flavored Rice-A-Roni with Rue McClanahan and Balthazar Getty. BONSAI!!!

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