Review: ‘Martial Arts Kid’ mixes up MMA and racial profiling

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You knew Robbie was trouble when he walked in. Jansen Panettiere plays the juvenile delinquent protagonist of “The Martial Arts Kid” who moves from Cleveland to Cocoa Beach, Fla., to live with his uncle Glen (kickboxing champ Don “The Dragon” Wilson), aunt Cindy (Cynthia Rothrock) and cousin Katie (Kayley Stallings).

Robbie wastes no time in sneaking out of the house past curfew, chatting up pretty blond Rina (Kathryn Newton) and getting a beating from her boyfriend, Bo Whitlaw (Matthew Ziff). Conveniently, Glen teaches Robbie martial arts. You can figure out the rest.

The film has the vibe of something you might see on Nickelodeon or ABC Family but with a lower budget.


When Robbie enthusiastically calls martial arts “hi-yah ninja stuff,” Cindy just smiles and nods at his ignorance. Co-writers Adam W. Marsh and director Michael Baumgarten lump the various martial arts together, just shy of saying all Asians look alike.

Bo happens to belong to a dojo owned by Glen’s rival (T.J. Storm), a black mixed-martial-arts instructor whose philosophy has been variously derided as undisciplined and unethical. So we have one minority pitted against the other minority in a bid to prove which is worthier of inclusion, while the bad guy who started the fight, Bo, is white.


‘The Martial Arts Kid’

No MPAA rating

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Playing: Downtown Independent, Los Angeles; Crest Westwood, L.A.