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‘Sidekicks’ (PG)

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 30, 1993

If Walter Mitty were a '90s teen, he'd be dreaming about being the Karate Kid and riding to Chuck Norris's rescue.

That's the premise of "Sidekicks," an offbeat family diversion co-produced by Norris, starring Norris and directed by Norris's brother, Aaron. Beating critics to the punch, Chuck Norris playfully tweaks his carefully honed image as taciturn warrior by recasting key scenes from several of his films ("The Octagon," "Missing in Action," "Lone Wolf McQuade" and "The Hitman") to satisfy the daydream fantasies of asthmatic underachiever Barry Gabrewski (Jonathan Brandis). Sure, shots are fired and brawls break out, but no one gets killed or maimed. Lethal punches are reduced to slapstick, and the bruises suffered by assorted villains are limited to their egos. "Sidekicks" aims for and warrants its PG rating.

Young Barry's problems aren't just related to his health. His computer programmer father (Beau Bridges) is an inattentive couch potato, and at high school, the bully Randy (John Buchanan) is making life almost as miserable for the thin, wheezing Barry as is the martinet gym teacher, Mr. Horn (Richard Moll).

Not surprisingly, Barry seeks refuge in his fantasies, which all seem to evolve out of Chuck Norris movies and karate magazines. In them, Barry is Norris's sidekick, his look and attitude tailored to each specific Norris role.

At school, his only support comes from a teacher (Julia Nickson-Soul), whose uncle Mr. Lee (Mako) just happens to be a teacher of martial arts (and an unusually loquacious one) when he's not cooking at the family restaurant. And that's who Barry turns to after being rejected and mocked by macho dojo master Kelly Stone (the apoplectic Joe Piscopo, looking more like Don Rickles every day). Stone, as it happens, is also coach to the bully Randy and just hates Chuck Norris.

As he starts training, Barry's a little rocky but he sticks with it and he's made better by Mr. Lee. And wouldn't you know, he enters a karate tournament. And when Barry needs a fourth member to complete his team, guess who steps out of the stands? Yes! It's Chuck Norris himself, and he's going to have to fight that galling Stone. We're not going to give away the ending.

Norris is affable and appealing, not only while parodying himself but while being himself; PG suits him. As Barry, Brandis (best known for "The NeverEnding Story II") is fairly convincing in his transformation, and karate certainly does wonders for his asthma. Nickson-Soul, who appeared as Sly Stallone's guide in "Rambo II," has strong presence, though she's not given much to work with (in all the fantasies, she's imperiled, then rescued). The production credits are solid and the only annoying element is Alan Silvestri's overblown score, but maybe that's part of the parody.

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