First principles: two hours and twenty minutes is a fucking unreasonable running time for a kids' martial arts film.

But that is exactly the running time of the new remake of The Karate Kid, which finds Will and Jada Pinkett Smith winning the Best Parents of the Year award, having bought their son Jaden his very own blockbuster movie to star in, with which he can show off his awesome kung fu skills to the whole world. At 140 fucking minutes, he gets to do an awful lot of that.

I'm not going to launch into some huffy thing about how it's a damn pity that the film was insta-cast with a Hollywood scion, neatly skipping past that messy "audition" process that occasionally results in a talented, non-famous person getting a part in a movie; my strong suspicion is that the tail wagged the dog on this one, and that the alternative to Jaden Smith's The Karate Kid would be the non-existence of The Karate Kid... and come to think of it, I have no idea at all why that wouldn't have been just great. Compared to some members of my generation, I've no special attachment to the 1984 original, but even so it has received an unfairly lazy and bloated do-over, in which virtually all of the most inspired moments are either a) an almost shot-for-shot recreation of some iconic moment from the first movie, or b) a coy gag ironically referencing some iconic moment from the first movie.

Still, the worst that can be said about the film is that it's incredibly perfunctory and lacks the remotest hint of sparkle; and that's actually enough to put it a bit ahead of the pack in this, the most grotesque movie summer in memory (it's also enough to make it arguably the best English-language project from director Harald Zwart, whose previous titles include Agent Cody Banks, The Pink Panther 2, and most pleasingly, a Norwegian film called Long Flat Balls. And its sequel). Unlike far too many American movies aimed at a family audience, nothing about it seems actively harmful to children, though nothing about it terribly inspiring, either. It's just a big old wad of disposable nothing that, if not for its hideously indulgent length, would be almost restfully bland.

So, there's this kid, Dre Parker (Smith), who is being dragged to China against his will by his widowed mother (Taraji P. Henson, putting far more energy and vitality into her performance than the barbarically simple role - little more than alternatively glowering and beatific reacion shots - demands, or rewards; but she is accordingly the best element of the film, no contest), who has to go there for ill-explained business reasons, but I guess since we're following Dre's perspective, "business reasons" is all we need. In China, Dre is mopey and sad, until he meets a pretty violin student, Meiying (Han Wenwen), and then promptly gets his ass kicked by her protective not-boyfriend, Cheng (Wang Zhenwei). This attracts the attention of local handyman Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), who instructs young Dre in the fine art of kung fu, and begins prepping the boy to compete in the upcoming tournament. What happens next surprises nobody, except for the characters in the movie.

Aside from the title - whose wrongness is underscored by a moment in the film when Dre's mom huffs about kung fu and karate being the same thing, in a way clearly meant to point out her ignorance - the biggest problem with The Karate Kid '10 is its lack of pointedness. Far too much of the narrative, especially in the agonising first half, before Dre even starts to practice the martial arts, is full of little go-nowhere details and reiteration of plot points we already understand (perhaps just to make certain that we understand that Cheng is a bully, the movie obligingly gives us the same exact "beat up on Dre" scene at least three times), and it drags like hell. Zwart, unsurprisingly, doesn't have the chops to move the thing along with any kind of urgency (he's no John G. Avildsen, that's for sure, and Christ does it hurt to have to pay any kind of compliment to John G. Avildsen), and his job is not helped out even slightly by his two leads: Chan, who's never looked so old, underplays his part with some success - the customary Jackie Chan tomfoolery would have been disastrous here - though he doesn't save the movie from being a bit sleepy. It wouldn't really matter, though, since the bulk of the movie rests on Jaden Smith's shoulders, and bless him, but he can't act. I don't want to be pointlessly mean about an eleven-year-old, but he couldn't act in The Day the Earth Stood Still, and he can't act here, and he's not even really trying from what I can tell. I'm sure his parents love him, and they didn't mean to hog all the talent in the family. But he has no more charisma nor native talent than any random pre-teen boy that you could pluck off of any street in the country. His line deliveries are uniformly wooden, and his every expression is the same look of stiff indifference. That he has been given his very own star-making vehicle - and worse still, that it seems to have actually worked - is profoundly unfair to every young actor who isn't Will and Jada Pinkett Smith's son, but life isn't meant to be fair, I guess. If life was fair, I probably would have some tiny measure of guilt for saying "this eleven-year-old actor sucks, and he sucks hard", and yet I do not.

At any rate, Smith's stilted acting is the only genuinely sour note in a symphony of acceptably mediocre hackery: Zwart's direction is flat but functional, and the story would be perfectly acceptable given the generally-limited scope of the sports movie, if thirty minutes could be trimmed out (and they could, very easily). It functions as a very lovely travel brochure for China, anyway - well it might, for the Chinese Tourism Board had a big hand in getting the film made, which deserves its own discussion along the lines of "the Chinese Tourism Board? Really? Well, that's probably why the hooray-for-forcing-your-daughter-to-study-violin subplot" - despite a cringeworthy James Horner score that plays exactly as you'd fear that "James Horner does China" would play. So it's slick and facile at best, but it's not egregiously stupid. Right now, that's close enough to give it a pass, but only barely.