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Saturday, September 10, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Family Movies

Latest Episode Of `Karate Kid' Is Just One Very Long Stereotype

------------ MOVIE REVIEW ------------ X 1/2 "The Next Karate Kid," with Hilary Swank, Noriyuki "Pat" Morita, Michael Ironside. Directed by Christopher Cain, from a script by Mark Lee. Aurora, Everett 9, Factoria, Grand Cinemas Alderwood, Kent, Metro, Mountlake 9, Newmark, Parkway Plaza, SeaTac Mall. "PG" - Parental guidance suggested for violence and some mild language. ---------------------------------

Cute little monks who take up Zen bowling when they visit Boston.

Bungee-jumping rednecks who crash the senior prom.

A karate teacher who is forever announcing "fighting no good" immediately after wasting half a dozen bad guys.

The script for this fourth installment in the "Karate Kid" series is so goofy that the movie should be more fun than it is. The franchise is certainly ripe for parody, but director Christopher Cain, a filmmaker associated with more sombre projects ("The Stone Boy"), seems seriously miscast as the movie's director.

Maybe it's the title character, a scowling, orphaned 17-year-old (Hilary Swank) who defeats him. Or maybe it's the story's unrelieved parade of stereotypes, including a grim militarist aching for a fight (Michael Ironside) and karate experts who make fortune-cookie pronouncements like "Never trust spiritual leaders who can't dance."

Noriyuki "Pat" Morita, the only holdover from the previous movies, gets most of these lines, and he handles them gracefully if predictably as he transforms Swank from sullen to sunny. This time he also makes a big point of leaving cockroaches and other insects alone: "Respect all living things."

Now if only the filmmakers had felt the same way about people. "The Next Karate Kid" is harmless as children's entertainment, but for 104 very long minutes, there isn't a recognizable human being in sight.

Other family films in town this weekend:

ALL AGES

"Black Beauty" (G): The best film version to date of Anna Sewell's 1877 animal-rights book, subtitled "The Autobiography of a Horse." (Alderwood Village, Enumclaw, Roxy in Renton.)

"Hidden Hawaii" (no rating): This IMAX documentary sets out to reveal aspects of the islands that aren't part of the tourist packages. (Daily matinees at the Omnidome on Pier 59.)

"The Lion King" (G): Marvelous feature-length Disney cartoon about the adventures of Simba, a lion cub who grows up planning to succeed his father as king. (Alderwood, Bay, Broadway Market, Crossroads, Everett Mall, Kent, Metro, Mountlake 9, Renton Village, Seatac Mall, Totem Lake, Valley drive-in.)

"Little Buddha" (PG): In a Buddhist monastery in Bhutan, an ailing but still vital Lama Norbu receives notice that his late teacher may have been reincarnated as Jesse, a 9-year-old Seattle boy. The movie uses a gentle story to bridge Western skepticism and Eastern philosophy in a mutually beneficial union. Some frightening imagery. (Crest)

FOR OLDER CHILDREN

"Andre" (PG): It's going to be accused of being a rip-off of "Free Willy" - trading the boy-and-his-whale story for a girl-and-her-seal - but this warmly heartfelt family fare is less blatantly contrived thanks to its basis in remarkable fact. Brief violence, mild profanity. (Everett 9, Gateway, Grand Cinemas Alderwood, Kirkland Parkplace, Newmark, Oak Tree, Parkway Plaza.)

"Little Big League" (PG): Although it has been buried beneath the cash crop of summer blockbusters, this amiable little comedy is guaranteed to entertain baseball fans. (Alderwood Village.)

"A Simple Twist of Fate" (PG-13): This Disney update of George Eliot's 1861 novel, "Silas Marner," stars Steve Martin as an antisocial miser who simultaneously loses his fortune and adopts an abandoned child whose mother has died. The relationship quickly brings out his best hidden qualities, turning him into an affectionate and devoted parent, but the girl's real father eventually decides he wants her back. The only official reason for the PG-13 rating: the mother expires from drug overuse. (Aurora, Crossroads, Everett 9, Grand Cinemas Alderwood, Guild 45th, Renton Village, Seatac Mall Cinemas.)

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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