Director: Jerry P. Jacobs
Writer: Sean Dash
Cast: Ted Jan Roberts, Corey Feldman, Marshall Teague, William James Jones, Erin Gray, Mako, Dean Cochran, Jason Majik, Erin Gray
PLOT THICKENERThe 1984 film The Karate Kid had a lot going for it. Pat Morita was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance as Mr. Miyagi. It featured a charming teenage protagonist with tangible, relatable problems. It set the blueprint for high school gangs of martial arts meatheads. But you know what The Karate Kid movie was missing? A murder subplot! That’s the dropped ball that director Jerry P. Jacobs tried to pick up with 1994’s A Dangerous Place. That ball is covered in blood and pomade from Corey Feldman’s pompador.
Ethan (Roberts) and Greg (Cochran) are two teenage brothers living with their single mom, Audrey (Gray). One might expect the younger Ethan to be the troublemaker when, in fact, it’s Greg who finds himself hanging out with the wrong crowd. As of late, he’s been skipping karate class at the Lions dojo to hang out with the Scorpions gang, a group of suburban karate street toughs led by Taylor (Feldman). The crew goes on joy rides during random weeknights, stealing cars, dirt bikes, electronics, and whatever else catches their eyes -- they run wild with impunity and look cool doing it. (“How come all the best looking girls in school hang out with the Scorpions?") Because they have dirt bikes and nice televisions. Duh!
While Greg hangs with them socially and has represented them in illicit sunset beach fights, he’s not quite a “made” member of the group. After coaxing him into a night-time domestic burglary, the Scorpions turn on Greg when he has a crisis of conscience mid-act. During a physical struggle, Greg gets maced, falls down a flight of stairs, and dies accidentally. How do Taylor and his impressionable friends with behavioral problems respond? If you answered, “they report the accident and serve their time,” you win a prize! The prize is immaculately wrapped and decorated with ribbons. You tear the wrapping paper off to reveal a gift box. The box contains a framed picture of Greg’s prone body hanging from the basketball net at the high school gymnasium. Yep -- these pricks staged his death to look like a suicide. Enjoy your prize, by the way.
Ethan refuses to believe the circumstances surrounding his brother’s death. What about his bike? Never recovered. What about the bruises on his body? Unexplained. Against the wishes of his Sensei (Mako) he wants to infiltrate the gang to find out the truth about that fateful night. He first brawls with a Scorpion member in the cafeteria during lunch to demonstrate his toughness. He slowly befriends the most sympathetic Scorpion member, Eddie (Jones). Finally, he shows up to the Scorpions’ dojo to spar, and later arranges a competitive fight between the Lions and Scorpions to win the approval of the wicked Sensei (and English teacher) Gavin Smith (Teague).
This was my first foray into the action film career of Ted Jan Roberts and while I’m nearly two decades beyond the targeted demographic for this film, I can say that 12-year-old me would think he was pretty cool shit. He’s sort of like Daniel Larusso with Cali mall swagger in place of New Jersey wisecracking. A Jonathan Taylor Thomas with karate skills, if you will. His on-screen fighting is solid and believable, and in a post-Ernie Reyes/Kane Kosugi world, that’s all you can ask out of an adolescent martial arts film star. In terms of screen presence, he’s perfectly fine for this material and the filmmakers wisely avoid the trappings of any sustained emotive drama. Ethan is angry and inquisitive, not depressed and weepy. It’s a bit unnatural since these family members barely react to the sudden death of a brother and son, but this is a movie about teenage karate vengeance, not therapy sessions and brooding introspection.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the contributions of Corey Feldman as the treacherous Taylor. It would have been simple to follow the blueprint of Billy Zabka as Johnny Lawrence in the Karate Kid and play him as a volatile, testesterone-fueled jerk. Instead, he portrays Taylor as sleazy and calculating. Feldman’s fighting technique doesn’t match the skills that his character’s black-belt rank might suggest -- do you really buy his lethal mastery of eagle claw? -- but fight choreographer Art Camacho makes it work regardless. His character’s cold unpredictability and absence of fear of consequences is what makes him tick. Throw in an out-of-time greasy pompador hair style and an everyday affection for black fingerless gloves, and he’s a weirdly memorable 1990s martial arts douchebag.
VERDICTA Dangerous Place has Corey Feldman popping wheelies on a dirtbike across a baseball field during live game-play while wearing a red gi and black fingerless gloves. What more do you want? Run out and impulsively put some discretionary income down on this film, like the foolish, emotionally distraught teenager you never were.
4 / 7