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'BEST OF THE BEST' WASTES ITS STARS' FIREPOWER

I tell you, I'm stumped. Here's a movie with a fair amount of star power, but no advance advertising. Among its stars is the lovely Sally Kirkland, but there is no romance. At the center of the film is an insurmountable conflict, but . . . on the outside chance that you plan to see this film, I won't give away the final resolution.

The film is "Best of the Best." It is an action adventure with comedy, bathos and loads and loads of organized brutality in the karate style.

The story by Phillip Rhee and Paul Levine tells of five men chosen to represent the U.S. National Karate Team in competition against the Korean national team.

Alex Grady (Eric Roberts) is the old veteran with a history that makes him cry through most of the film. And when he crys, fluid oozes from every orifice in his face. It's revolting. Tommy Lee (Phillip Rhee), a karate expert with a history that makes him cry only occasionally, is also selected for the team.

Travis (Christopher Penn) is a good old boy of the cowboy variety who is loud, bigoted, arrogant and generally close-minded. He has no history and no future. The two remaining team members, Virgil and Sonny, are generally lightweight characters, generally serving as fodder for Travis' hatred.

Frank (James Earl Jones) is the coach of the U.S. team. Like Alex and Tommy, he too has a history, and although it doesn't make him cry, it does make him cross and irrationally demanding.

Sally Kirkland plays Katherine Wade, a lovely, willowy blond in short, tight-fitting skirts who comes aboard as assistant trainer, much to Frank's consternation. She specializes in Eastern philosophy, and although she holds a belt to the nth degree, she is largely responsible for the team's mind-set.

Louise Fletcher plays Alex's mother. She would be entirely dispensable if not for the fact that she watches Alex's 5-year-old son, Walter, while Alex is away training.

Ahmad Rashad gives the play-by-play and color commentary at the championships in Korea. It's incredible.

The film juxtaposes sequences of the Americans in training with those of the Korean team in training. What you have, then, is a session with a leotard-clad Kirkland speaking softly to five misty-eyed jocks, quickly followed by a shot of five shouting, screaming Koreans air-boxing and kicking across a windy, snow-covered plain.

The film features loads of karate -- punching, kicking, bodies slamming against the floor, bloody faces, swollen eyes and an occasional injured limb. The exaggerated sound effects as flesh connects with flesh are in the style of the old "Batman" television series. Where other movies leave you laughing or crying, this film leaves you with a sore neck.

"Best of the Best" is the adult version of "The Karate Kid" series, and the karate version of the "Rocky" series. The central conflict is between warm, loving characters and battling humanoids. Here, however, the characters are so diverse, and so handicapped by their emotions, that one wonders if a padded cell wouldn't do just as well as a weight room.

The casting is the real mystery here. It's possible that the handful of stars needed a quick cash fix, and this film fit the bill. A bit of economic responsibility could save us all some time and money.

REVIEW
Best of the Best

Karate action adventure.

Starring Eric Roberts, James Earl Jones, Sally Kirkland and Louise Fletcher; introducing Christopher Penn.

Rated PG-13, playing in the Market Arcade, Summit Park 6, Thruway and University theaters.

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