A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Underdog Kids is another sports film in the "David vs. Goliath" tradition. In this tale a ragtag bunch of down-and-out kids takes on the winning Beverly Hills martial-arts junior champs with the help of a former MMA (mixed martial arts) heavyweight trying to make a comeback. Filled with straightforward messages about responsibility, confidence, and hard work, the film also has plenty of stereotypes (angry African-American boy, a kid trying to overcome a stutter, an overweight boy fat-shamed by his dad, a struggling single mom, adorable orphans, bullies). Lots of martial-arts action plays throughout with no serious injuries, and there's bullying and some street fighting in which the coach overwhelms an entire company of toughs. Expect some colorful insults ("chicken butt"), a few swear words ("bulls--t," "piss"), and numerous loud farts.
What's the story?
Jimmy "The Lightning Bolt" Lee (Philip Rhee, actual MMA champion, who also wrote and directed the film) is more than down on his luck in UNDERDOG KIDS. After a serious accident some years earlier, his career is ruined and he has no one in his life. Pressured by Charlie (Max Gail), an old friend who runs a struggling mid-city community center, to take on a group of impoverished or emotionally needy kids with an interest in martial arts, Jimmy is quick to say no. He doesn't even like kids. But Charlie is convincing. The varied-age troop is set to meet the area champions, the Beverly Hills Scorpions, led by one of Jimmy's long-standing martial-arts competitors, in a tournament only weeks away. Jimmy could make a big difference in these kids' lives. After a few fits and starts, he commits to the challenge, and the race for excellence begins in earnest.
Is it any good?
Underdog Kids is unoriginal. One-dimensional characters behave in conventional ways. The players are stereotypes throughout. Expect to see two orphaned boys building a relationship with their young and beautiful aunt; the fat tween being tormented by his father (Beau Bridges), who does the quickest turnaround in kid-movie history; the dad-coach who'll cheat, demean, and shame his way to victory; and the little girl with dreams, literally selling oranges on a street corner. Mr. Rhee clearly couldn't find experienced martial-arts kids to play his heroes (he fares better with the Beverly Hills opponents, who are much more capable), so he cast actors instead. Then he had the thankless job of trying to edit filmed battles with non-athletes. There's simply no way he can sell his kids' expertise, so it's a glaring cheat. Despite all that, kids may enjoy the movie, root hard for the underdogs, laugh at the "fartability" of one competitor, and pretend they don't notice how much better the Beverly Hills team really is.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about underdog movies as a genre. Many audience favorites are underdog films -- think Rocky, Hoosiers, and McFarland, U.S.A. In addition to being enjoyable, what do these movies teach us about ourselves and inspire us to do?
Define "predictable." In what ways is this film predictable? What, if anything, surprised you?
There's a place in the world of art (theater, books, movies) for "low comedy," such as farts, toilet humor, and pie-in-the-face slapstick. Why is it described as "low"? Why do you think farts make audiences laugh?
- On DVD or streaming: July 7, 2015
- Cast: Philip Rhee, Valerie Cruz, Max Gail
- Director: Philip Rhee
- Studios: Itsy Bitsy Films, Group Hug Productions
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Sports and Martial Arts, Misfits and Underdogs
- Run time: 94 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some violence and sports action, thematic elements, and rude humor
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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