In the eighties and nineties, there were tons of movie studios trying their hardest to create their own versions of “Karate Kid.” The movie made Ralph Macchio a star for a while, and helped fuel America’s love for the underdog. So naturally, someone had the bright idea to cast Billy Blanks in a lead role for their own “Karate Kid” movie. Like Macchio, Blanks was a celebrity for a short while before becoming a fitness guru, and here he basically plays Miyagi, except as a washed out janitor for a high school filled with students all of whom look well in to their twenties.
Ken Marx has just moved from Kansas and in to the big city where he begins attending school with Julie, a classmate Ken begins eying and drooling over. Little does he know she’s with the possessive and slightly abusive Tom, a martial arts student who doesn’t take kindly to guys eying his woman. Personally, I still can’t understand why anyone would fight over Christine Taylor. To show how utterly lame the movie is, there’s not even much of a case made for Taylor’s character Julie. At least there was a case made for Elizabeth Shue who was gorgeous, rich, charismatic, and had a great body. Taylor is like vanilla ice cream, she just has no personality or variety. In either case, Ken has an eventual run in with Tom, but is saved by school janitor Billy (played by Billy Blanks, of course), and Tom now plans to retaliate. Beating him up in front of the school, Ken survives the attack and turns to Billy for training.
Billy, an ex-cop who quit the force years before, agrees to secretly take him on as a student. Over the course of a few montages that feel like throwaways from “Karate Kid IV,” Ken begins to learn how to defend himself, and soon enough Tom catches the attention of his evil sensei Lee. Patrick Kilpatrick was the go to guy for baddies and thugs in the nineties, so here he’s the snarling martial arts sensei who insists on violent force with his students. Not just that, but he houses an arena where he stages illegal fights for bets and money. Once Ken learns how to fight, he’s approached by Lee’s associate to enter the tournaments, and help pay for his mom’s expenses. This leads in to the eventual plan to kill Ken, and his mentor Billy. If anything, “Showdown” is almost exactly the kind of film “Karate Kid” would have been if originally conceived in the nineties.
The decade was filled with tough blond heroes, and edgy villains, not to mention derivative storylines, so the film acts like it’s twisting the formula when really it’s just turning the underdog story in to another “Best of the Best” sequel. In spite of Kenn Scott (he played Raphael in TMNT 2 you know!) and Ken McCleod’s best efforts, their characters are never really interesting or complex. McCleod as Tom has one function: Bully and be a prick. Kenn Scott on the other hand really just plays up the defenseless hero bit until he magically becomes a skill warrior in the finale. “Showdown” really isn’t that bad a “Karate Kid” throwback. It has its charms, and Billy Blanks manages to win the audience over with his personality no matter what the material present. It’s definitely a childhood favorite, and one I don’t mind watching whenever I come across it.