With the recent release of the 're-imagined' "Karate Kid", which is apparently doing remarkable box-office Stateside, I've been thinking about the lovely late American-Asian actor Pat Morita. I have been a big Jackie Chan admirer, long before his move to the Hollywood scene, and I am happy that he can still pack them in, even now when his action hero antics have somewhat diminished with age. However the seminal Mr. Miyagi character from the first four movies (1984 to 1994) will forever be Morita for me. I also have fond memories of his occasional appearances in "Happy Days" as luncheonette owner Arnold. So when I remembered having the above movie in my eclectic collection, I thought it was time for another nostalgic look.
I recalled the film as being something of a hoot, but sadly my memory was playing tricks on me, as it is actually largely a pedestrian affair. Morita plays a Tokyo policeman sent to Detroit to retrieve a stolen technological prototype, which has been offered to an American car manufacturer. There, after the culprit has been murdered by local nogoodnik Chris Sarandon and his mob, Morita ends up working with a maverick Detroit cop, Jay Leno (of all people). Now Leno is not exactly best known for his work as an actor, although he has lent his vocal talents to a number of recent animations. However, paired here with Morita, they make a fine couple of mismatched buddies in the grand tradition of such things. Although their cultural differences underline the bulk of the humour, they manage to establish a likeable rapport. In a fistfight with Sarandon's hoods, Leno complains that it is his bad luck to end up with the only person in Japan who doesn't know any karate (a direct reference to Morita's three earlier Karate Kid flicks); Morita replies that this is not true, as his brother is also unversed in the discipline.
My memory of the movie was definitely faulty. At one early stage Morita tries to escape from the chasing Leno by enclosing himself in a garment bag and hopping along. I had a firm mental picture of their both doing the same later in the film, but there was no such scene, although it might have been an amusing inclusion. Basically the film was not as humourous as it could have been, given the duck out of water premise, but it was pleasant enough viewing the charming Morita once more. The movie also accommodated minor roles for Ernie Hudson, Tom Noonan, and "Tex" Cobb, so it was hardly a waste of viewing time. On the other hand, it's good to know that Leno has been able to find a happier career niche than that of a not very funny comic lead actor.