“A predictable back-to-basic martial arts movie for the kids only.”
Phillip Rhee stars as a former-MMA-champion-turned-trainer in Underdog Kids, his return film which he himself wrote and directed. Known as the fearless “The Lightning Bolt” in the mixed martial arts world, Jimmy suffered a car crash, resulting to a serious injury to his body that cost him his career. Now, Jimmy is riding around the neighborhood in his motorbike.
Incidentally, Jimmy walks into his old instructor Charlie Walker (Max Gail) who manages a community center for some unruly kids from a poor neighborhood. Since the kids have lost another karate instructor, Charlie asks Jimmy to train them for an upcoming martial arts contest. Jimmy initially hesitates as he is preparing for his come-back in the ring. Other than that, training the kids will be a big challenge as they have issues of their own. The team will compose of an overweight, a stutterer, one having problems with his single mother, a vendor girl who longs for her nails polished, a tot who loves pillows and other decrepit kids.
Yet, Jimmy’s rigorous training has turned the kids into pro. Lack of uniform and bullying from other people are problems the team must encounter along the way. In the end, they have to face the undefeated Beverly Hills Junior National Karate Team trained by Ted Barret (Patrick Fabian), Jimmy’s greatest rival from his glorious past.
Phillip Rhee rose to prominence in the Best of the Best film series which hit the world back in the late 80s and early 90s. After being gone for a long time, Rhee returns with another martial arts movie. With Underdog Kids, Rhee attempts to create “The Karate Kid” for the younger generation. The film has plenty of humor, action and drama that younger demographics will certainly enjoy. The children actors are both delightful and inspiring. Between practicing punches and high kicks, they are continually frolicking, laughing and farting.
A good aspect about the film is its back-to-basic techniques with regards to its action sequences. Unlike other action films these days, Underdog Kids does not rely on special effects and tricky editing to excite our adrenaline. It is purely manual and physical. Other than that, Rhee successfully incorporated clear-cut life messages into the movie. With martial arts and their coach’s guidance, the kids are able to summon their inner strength and rise above being underdogs. In effect, they see their self-worth and build better relationships with their friends, family and society.
On the downside, the film feels overstuffed with both characters and subplots. The film continues to add new members to the team even halfway through it. With doing so, the stories just pile up one after another until it suffocated. It tries to deal with a number of things within just one-and-a-half hours. Considering that the film also started sluggishly as it develops its foundation, it may not hold the interest of most viewers and they would certainly miss the better part and its message towards the end.
Sports films are very predictable and Underdog Kids is a perfect example. Expectedly, the underdog team beat the undefeated champions. This is quite unconvincing as the opponents are actually more disciplined and more superior in terms of strength and skills. It seems that the “dance moves” is the only thing wich separated the team, and hence, they brought home the bacon.
Aside from being full of clichés, the film feels old and dry. Yes, it has good humor (except for that fart thing) but the generally boring dialogues and flat facial expressions of the actors do not make it a saleable movie. Rhee is too uptight while the kids are too loose. Rhee is too bland while the kids are too energetic. As a result, they never get to the middle and bring the drama more larger than life.
With its crazy gags, tight action and light drama, Underdog Kids is certainly a film for the little kids. It tells ample life lessons which are affecting at times. However, its low budget is too obvious that the film ends up looking old, mediocre and unbelievable. Unlike his character Jimmy, Rhee does not get a big come-back welcome with this movie.