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Movies and Pop : 'Sidekicks' Has a Bad Case of the Cutes

April 19, 1993|MICHAEL WILMINGTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Perhaps it's a cinematic second childhood, but in the past few years, we seem to be witnessing a mass emigration of the action movie stars of the '80's back toward Cutesville and Kiddieland.

Gone, to some degree, are the snarls, carnage and blood, the "Rambos" and "Raw Deals." Instead, there's Schwarzenegger in "Kindergarten Cop," Sylvester Stallone in "Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot!" Just the other week, there was Burt Reynolds in "Cop and a Half."

So, it was probably inevitable that Chuck Norris would show up in something like "Sidekicks" (which opened citywide Friday, without critics' screenings), a movie with more than its share of the cutes. This is an "inspirational" children's karate picture, stuffed with action-movie parodies, in which--though he executive produced and his brother Aaron directed--Norris isn't even really the star.

Instead, he puts in a sort of extended guest star stint. He's playing himself: genial, good-hearted superstar Chuck, the great fantasy figure of youngster Jonathan Brandis. Brandis, in turn, plays a put-upon teen-ager, who suffers from nervousness, introversion, coughs, schoolyard bullies and the well-meaning but fumbling fatherly ministrations of hapless Beau Bridges.

*

Life is rough, tough . . . but Brandis' spirits soar whenever he sees schoolmate Julia Nickson-Soul or picks up a martial arts magazine with Chuck's face on the cover. However bad it gets in life, however many braying gym teachers, sadistic schoolmates or improbable idiocies he runs into, Brandis' ongoing fantasy life plays like a continuous all-day-and-night Chuck Norris cable channel. In it, the engagingly sickly youth is cast as Chuck's sidekick in a seemingly endless festival of Norris action specials: pseudo-spaghetti Westerns, jungle war movies and chop 'em, sock 'em, Hong Kong-style one-against-a-hundred romps.

The point of the movie--in which, back in "real life," karate kid Brandis meets the great teacher and restaurateur Mako, and learns wisdom, self-control and how to put your hand through nine bricks--is that bullies are bad, heroes are nice and if you hold on to your dreams, happy endings will arrive right on schedule.

Why argue with something like that? "Sidekicks" is amiable enough, even if cinematically, it makes "Cop and a Half" look like "8 1/2." The only time director Aaron Norris shows much flair is when he and brother Chuck get to their specialty: the karate matches. Elsewhere, the writing is stiff and thin, the visuals a little sludgy and the actors pose and mug, with Joe Piscopo as a howling, evil martial arts instructor, taking the Raging Goombah award. The fantasy scenes are flat, despite a jazzy angle or two in one Clint Eastwood parody. Not even the notably intense Mako, in the Pat Morita part, can liven up the rest of it.

Awash in syrupy sentiment, swimming in stereotypes and directed with all the subtlety of a body-flop, "Sidekicks" (MPAA rated PG) is a movie for hero-worshiping kids in shopping malls, for Chuck Norris super-fans or for devotees of improbable bad movies looking for kicks on the side.

'Sidekicks'

Chuck Norris: Himself

Mako: the Teacher

Jonathan Brandis: the Sidekick

A Gallery Films presentation of a Don Carmody production, released by Triumph releasing Corp. Director Aaron Norris. Producer Don Carmody. Executive producers Chuck Norris, Jim and Linda McIngvale. Screenplay by Donald G. Thompson, Lou Illar. Cinematographer Joao Fernandes. Editors David Rawlins, Bernard Weiser. Music Alan Silvestri. Production design Reuben Freed. With Joe Piscopo. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

MPAA-rated PG

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