Friday Fisticuffs 80s Odyssey Edition: My Bodyguard (1980) & Karate Kid (1984)

I have to admit, this version of Friday Fisticuffs is a bit of a cheat. I do believe I could have watched one of these movies on a Friday, but can’t be sure. I doubt I’ll have time to watching anything to really fill that spot today, so I figured I’d kill a few birds with one stone. There’s definitely enough action in these two movies (or at least Karate Kid) and it ticks two more 80s movies off of my post list (there’s about a dozen on there as of now that I haven’t written about). Since our new bundle of joy is currently eating and I’ve got a few free minutes, I figured it would be a good time to kick out the jams and see how rusty I am.

So, with all that said, let’s jump in. I had never seen My Bodyguard or at least have no memory of it. I’m guessing that’s because it came out just the right amount of years before I was born (three) to put it off my radar. Also, the movie’s pretty intense and got a lot more serious than I ever really expected. The basis of the movie is that Clifford (played by Chris Makepeace whose name is ridiculously ironic in this case, he also played Rudy in the classic Meatballs which I would be reviewing as well had it not come out in 1979) is having problems with a bully played by Matt Dillon, but he doesn’t want to take any of his shit. So, Clifford hires a pretty big dude in his class that everyone’s afraid of, played by Adam Baldwin. As things progress, Clifford and Baldwin become friends, but also, along the way, Dillon finds his own bodyguard to help him out.

And this is the problem I had with the movie or at least an aspect of it that really knocked me off guard. I thought this movie would be a little goofy, but instead it gets really dark at times, which adds to the reality, but then there’s one part that almost goes too far. The story about Baldwin’s brother was sad and fit well enough, but it’s the bully that Dillon hires that really pushed things over the edge for me. First off, this dude looks like he’s in his late 20s/early 30s. What is he doing hanging out with and beating on a bunch of high school kids? The beating he lays on Baldwin followed by the destruction of his property really hit me in the gut. It’s a great emotional turn for the movie and like I said, but it’s almost like Dillon raised the stakes to the point where a beating wasn’t enough for him to make things right. I kind of wanted to see him–and his bodyguard–in a body bag by the end of the movie. I have no idea why anyone ever hired him again after this movie, but I’m guessing it’s because Hollywood wasn’t populated by geeks back in the late 70s/early 80s. See for yourself:

Don’t get be wrong, though. I still really liked this movie. I get why it’s a classic because it’s such an emotional one two punch. Everyone seems so real, I think that’s why the really bad things that happen to Baldwin hit me in the gut so much. In addition to Makepeace, Dillon and Baldwin, the cast is also pretty well stacked thanks to Martin Mull (who will always be awesome thanks to Roseanne), Joan Cusack  and the always ridiculously enjoyable Ruth Gordon. Clifford’s family really helped make this movie even better for me. His mom died, he’s living in a hotel, his dad’s pretty rad and his grandma just hangs out, drinks and has fun, but not in a negligent or dangerous way. There’s something about her character and Gordon’s portrayal of it that feels so great and original, but also missing from today’s characters. Maybe I just can’t think of any examples right now, but it seems like that kind of character would have been played too over the top today as more of a one or two note joke and not an incredibly deep character.

Unlike My Bodyguard, I was definitely familiar with Karate Kid. Another 80s classic, this one was a regular cable staple when I was a youngin’ and watched a few times during my impressionable years. Something I’ve noticed while watching these movies from my childhood is that I didn’t really get obsessed with them when I was a kid. Sure, I liked watching them on TV whenever they came on, but it’s not like I owned many of them. Maybe that’s because my parents weren’t big movie-buyers at the time. It seems like it wasn’t until I got a little bit older that I got more into owning movies and by then I was a Tim Burton fan and didn’t even know it yet. But, that doesn’t mean I haven’t enjoyed going back and watching them again. Actually, I think it’s great this way because I’ve got the nostalgia factor going, but I can also watch them with more of a critical eye without too much nostalgia overwhelming my opinions.

As it turns out, Karate Kid is just a damn good movie, whether you were a fan of it as a kid or not. I’m sure you know the story, but in case you don’t, Daniel moves from Jersey to California with his single mom. There he finds he has a thing for the pretty girl at school who, as these things go in movies, has an ex boyfriend who is an asshole (Billy Zabka again). He’s not just an asshole though, he’s an asshole who knows karate and studies it at a local dojo which also happens to be run by an asshole (funny how they attract one another, huh?). Luckily for Daniel, he meets his building’s handy man Mr. Miyagi who knows karate and winds up teaching him its mysterious ways in an unorthodox manner.

Much like My Bodyguard, things get pretty intense for young Daniel as Zabka and his skeleton costumed hoodlum friends get more and more evil as the movie goes on. I think one thing that makes Karate Kid more enjoyable is that Daniel himself gets revenge instead of having to hire someone else to do it. Obviously, the movies differ on what they were trying to do and say, but there’s a reason Karate Kid made millions of kids learn martial arts and My Bodyguard didn’t spawn a school bodyguard fad. The quality that makes both movies so memorable is not just that the good guys win and the bad guys loose, but because they seem like kids you went to school with or were. Everyone can relate to Daniel for having a rough time at school if not the full-on bullying stuff. And man, is Zabka an amazing asshole or what? I’m still not sure if he’s worse in this or Just One Of The Guys, but he’s pretty awful in both.

Zabka’s douchiness as Johnny makes this last scene all the better. I think I’ve been subconsciously comparing every single sports movie I’ve seen since Karate Kid as a kid. The heroes and villains are spot on, they victory is difficult for the hero, but he still pulls through and our hero really had to work at his skills, he’s not just awesome at everything right away. All of these things combine to form a pretty fantastic showdown cocktail that had me super pumped by the time the movie ended and making me want to watch the first two sequels and even the remake (I’m good on Next, at least for now).

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