Karate Rock (1990)

Karate Rock (1990)- * *

Directed By: Fabrizio De Angelis

Starring: Antonio Sabato Jr., Dorian Field, Natalie Hendrix, Andrew Parker, Timothy Smith, Robert Chan, and David Warbeck

“Why don’t you go iron your tutu?”

Kevin Foster (Sabato Jr.) is the new kid in town. He comes from Oakland to live in Savannah, Georgia with his father John (Warbeck), a police officer. Inexplicably, this makes him the target of ridicule amongst the local bully population, who tease him by not only calling him “cop’s son” but also just “cop” (!) – so Kevin goes to the local discotheque, as all Southern teens were doing in 1990. He enters the “Rock Competition”, by which the European filmmakers must have meant “Dance Competition”. Naturally, Kevin wins, but that’s when all his troubles start.

A love triangle develops between Kevin, who likes Kim (Hendrix), and Connie (Field), who likes Kevin. Kevin’s interest in Kim, as well as his superior dancing abilities, really tees off the head bully and Karate champ, Jeff Hunter (Parker). Jeff gets really mad when Kevin bests him at a truck race through the “Tunnel of Death”, so Jeff and his goons beat up Kevin several times. Eventually, Kevin wises up and begins training with his father’s friend Billy (Chan), an older Asian gentleman who long ago swore off using his Martial Arts abilities but who now really wants Kevin to get revenge against Jeff Hunter. The two boys set up a final showdown at the local dojo. Who will be victorious?

Our old buddy Larry Ludman serves up a cross between Footloose (1984) and The Karate Kid (1984), but notice that both of those movies are from the great year of 1984. Today’s movie in question came out in 1990, and, for better or worse, times had changed. Maybe that’s why this never got any kind of a release in America. Anyway, it should be noted that there is no rock and very, very little Karate in Karate Rock. It’s maybe 85% Footloose and 15% Karate Kid. The box art, great as it is, is very misleading. It’s not the Martial Arts version of Body Rock (1984) that we were hoping for. But, in all fairness, even Sabato would have a hard time filling the shoes of Chilly D.

Sabato wears an oversized white cardigan and rents videos from a store called Video One. There was a Hard To Kill (1990) poster in the window, so presumably that’s what he was renting. In the same strip mall is the dojo with two names. It reads “Korean Karate”, and then, as if to correct itself, “Savannah Tae Kwon Do”. It’s easy to see why Kevin has such a crush on Kim. She has a fantastic sideways ponytail and wears triangular earrings. On the other side of the equation, Jeff Hunter has rockin’ after-market pink windshield wipers on his 4x4. It’s going to be a tough choice for her.

The Yaz-like synth disco score is by Donald Brent, who only has one other music scoring credit, another Fabrizio DeAngelis movie called Breakfast With Dracula (1993). That’s a shame, as we would like to look forward to more scores by him. As far as we can tell, neither score has been released on CD or vinyl to date. Speaking of sound, when the characters talk – in any setting – it sounds like they’re speaking into microphones with both the echo and reverb turned up. This unnatural circumstance leads to a lot of funny mishearings, such as when Kevin’s Black friend is introduced as “Chocolate Chip”. Sadly, his name isn’t Chocolate Chip, or even just Chip. Even still, the classic nerd, Mortimer (Smith), almost steals the movie. Maybe this is because we get such minimal Warbeck.

In the end, Karate Rock is a teen movie, and not the shirt-ripping fight-fest the box art seems to indicate that it is. Kevin doesn’t even start training until the movie is almost over. Perhaps the most interesting things about Karate Rock, seen from today’s perspective, of course, are its time-capsule points of interest. And also the fact that what you see here is what a bunch of European adults thought American teens were like. It’s a reasonably fun trifle, but it’s not, strictly speaking, an action movie.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


Roger Renman said...

I completely agree, very little action in this supposed karate movie. The odd sound of the dialogue might be because Italian movies were shot without sound. The dialogue was recorded later. I’ve heard many reasons for this practice over the years: censors constantly changing dialogue during Fascist times, Cinecitta being built next to an airport, multinational casts, both Italian- and English-dubbed versions released... Hong Kong has the same tradition. By the way, the band Yaz is known by their real name Yazoo outside the US.

Ty said...

Good info as always, Roger. Speaking of Sabato Jr, there's always Thrill and The Base 2!