Hayden Panettiere’s little brother teams ups with legit martial arts greats Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Cynthia Rothrock, and TJ Storm in this solid little family action flick. The Martial Arts Kid began as an idea in the mind of Wilson’s brother James E. Wilson, writer/director Michael Baumgarten, and writer Adam W. Marsh. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, the film became a reality, playing festivals and a small theatrical run, even winning a few awards along the way.
Somewhat of a modern retelling of The Karate Kid, the film mixes traditional martial arts and MMA to tell the story of a struggling kid named Robbie (Jansen Panettiere) who truly finds himself through new relationships and the discipline gained through studying at the town’s traditional dojo. This dojo, Space Coast Dojo, is run by Robbie’s uncle Glen (Wilson) and is one of two competing dojos in the beach town of Cocoa Beach, the other being Dojo Extreme. Extreme is run by a former protégé of Glen’s, Laurent Kaine (TJ Storm), who didn’t buy into the traditional philosophy of Glen’s dojo and branched out to start his own dojo. Extreme is very much a modern Cobra Kai, with a destroy or be destroyed mentality, but a modern MMA flair.
For those who, like me, were raised in Christian homes, there is often a trepidation when we hear a film is “faith based” and nothing says “faith based” more than a Dove award. However, nothing about this film was preachy or forced. While there was certainly a bit of a Family Channel film of the week vibe, The Martial Arts Kid was distinctly positive, but not distinctly religious in any way. This is a movie about overcoming past mistakes and always trying to take the high road. This is a movie with a fun, feelgood feel and just enough substance to make it more than simple fluff.
Don’t let this faith and family talk fool you, though. There is some solid martial arts in this film, too. The aforementioned pros and a few other guests give the film it’s needed cred. The actual fights are well choreographed and well executed. This culminates in two final showdowns, one featuring the protagonist Robbie and one featuring Uncle Glen, each sparring with their decided nemesis in the film. Both of these scenes deliver on the promise of a movie such as this.
In short, this is a good family film for your next free Friday or Saturday evening. It’s got some romance, some action, and a wholesome message. It then leaves us with a cliffhanger and set up for a sequel, which one can only assume will find a way of getting made in the next few years. Don’t let the pedestrian cover art or endorsements from the Dove foundation derail you, but instead give this film a shot.