The late Jonathan Brandis and martial arts legend Chuck Norris star in this action film about a kid whose dream comes true before his eyes as well as having the courage to stand up for himself.
Barry Gabrewski (Brandis) is a teenager who suffers from asthma. At school, he has a crush on local girl Lauren (Danica McKellar) and yet he is bullied by Randy Cellini (John Buchanan), the local bully who just happens to be a martial artist. When Barry tries his hand at martial arts, he is turned away by local instructor Kelly Stone (Joe Piscopo) when Stone mocks Barry’s hero, Chuck Norris. Stone just happens to be Randy’s teacher as well.
Barry’s only road to happiness seems to be his daydreaming about joining Chuck Norris in his adventures. When Barry’s teacher Noreen Chan (Julia Nickson) catches wind of Barry’s daydreams, she decides to have him train in martial arts. While Noreen is a tai chi stylist, Barry trains under Noreen’s uncle, restaurateur Lee (Mako).
As Barry begins to train harder in martial arts, his asthma slowly begins to subside. He is able to do exercises in gym and even impress his coach when he finally stands up to Randy. Randy, undeterred and shocked by Barry’s martial arts skills, challenges him to compete in a local tournament. With Noreen and Lee helping, the team will need a fourth competitor to complete their team. Barry’s second dream comes true when Chuck Norris himself decides to join the team.
Directed by Aaron Norris (Chuck’s younger brother and co-fight choreographer), this truly tends to be quite an underrated family martial arts film. The film was made in the wake of other “family martial arts films” like the TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES films and the 3 NINJAS films. This film has definitely something for those who dream of hanging with their heroes as well as needing their own strength to stand up for what they believe.
The screenplay itself was written by a martial artist, Lou Illar. Illar is a master in White Crane kung fu and he wrote this film specifically due to his training with children with disabilities. This would explain why the lead character of Barry suffers from asthma. For playing such a role, the late Jonathan Brandis does quite well. Surprisingly, he also did well in training for the film as he did his own fight scene against the school bully. However, one flaw that shouldn’t have been done is his tournament scene where he uses a pair of nunchakus. Brandis starts off well, however, the film soon turns into a dream sequence where he is replaced by a white-uniformed ninja doing the demo. This should have been Brandis’ chance to show what he had truly learned and it is sad that the chance will never get to happen.
The dream sequences with Chuck Norris, who plays himself, are quite fun to watch. Some of the dreams spoof some of Norris’ films, including MISSING IN ACTION (1984) and THE HITMAN (1991). Aside from the dream sequences, Norris gets to fight in the tournament’s sparring contest. This is where the film’s comic portion goes into overdrive. In the finals, Norris takes on Joe Piscopo’s big-mouthed, Sensei Kreese-like karate instructor Kelly Stone. When Stone starts losing, Stone takes off the top of his gi and thinks he’s Bruce Lee. When the two jump towards each other, Norris goes for a jumping side kick (a trademark move he has performed in his films), and it’s Piscopo’s reaction that stands out as the real comedy of the movie. This all comes courtesy of Norris protégé, Rick Prieto, who was the fight choreographer and even appears as a biker alongside Norris’s son Eric.
SIDEKICKS is truly a family martial arts film about heart, determination, and living your dream. If you’re not into the sappy drama of the film, it is okay. Just fast forward to the Norris-Piscopo fight and be prepared for something funny. Worth at least a rental.