It should come as no surprise that biker gangs, FBI agents, karate-kicking preteens, love-struck adolescents, psychopathic rednecks, and sparring spouses are incompatible narrative elements. Yet all of those things and more are crammed into Little Dragons, a mess of an action/comedy movie ostensibly designed for family audiences. Perhaps because the picture was an early directorial effort by the skillful Curtis Hanson, who later made winners including The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992) and L.A. Confidential (1997), the movie has a fairly slick flow within individual scenes. It’s the way all the parts are assembled that creates problems. Beyond the fundamental issue of cramming way too many concepts into one movie, Little Dragons suffers from tonal confusion of the worst kind. Scenes featuring youngsters doing martial arts are played for Disney-style slapstick amusement, and sequences spotlighting the creepy rednecks are borderline horrific, thanks to constant threats of brutal murder. Adding to the dissonance is a running gag about stoners happily singing “The Hokey Pokey.” For any who care, the broad strokes of the plot are as follows. At a rural campsite, a suburban family (Mom, Dad, teen daughter) encounters a backwoods clan comprising mama Angel (Ann Sothern) and her two depraved sons, middle-aged crazies Carl (John Chandler) and Yancey (Joe Spinell). They take a shine to the suburban family’s daughter and kidnap the young lady at the first opportunity. Meanwhile, a grandfather (Charles Lane) arrives at the same campsite with his grandsons (played by real-life siblings Chris and Pat Peterson), who are into karate. The young martial artists, accompanied by a cadre of classmates, try to rescue the kidnapped girl. It’s all as silly as it is slapdash. Although clearly shot in the late ’70s, it’s iffy whether The Little Dragons properly belongs to the decade, since some sources indicate the film was first released in 1980. (Furthermore, it was re-released a few years later as Karate Kids U.S.A., following the success of the unrelated 1984 sports drama The Karate Kid.) In any event, The Little Dragons is harmless but inept.
The Little Dragons: LAME