Action and adventure come in pairs with the Chuck Norris “greatest hits” classic Sidekicks starring the late Jonathan Brandis. A would-be Karate Kid knock-off is bolstered by fun performances from Mako and Joe Piscopo and reenactments from The Bearded Wonder’s best films. Now Vinegar Syndrome gives this rental favorite a fantastic 4K UHD upgrade as their fifth VSU title complete with terrific A/V and tons of great bonus features. Recommended
Barry Grabrewski (Jonathan Brandis) is like any other awkward socially-challenged teen. In between bouts of being bullied, asthma, and pining for his crush Lauren (Danica McKellar), Barry fantasizes about hanging with his idol Chuck Norris (The Bearded Wonder). To get over these fantasies and gain some confidence, his teacher (Julia Nichols) enlists her uncle Mr. Lee (Mako) to train Barry in martial arts. When they enter a local tournament Barry will not only team up with his hero in real life, but also work together to take down the jerk Sensei Stone (Joe Piscopo) and his dojo.
Sidekicks was the right movie at the right time for Chuck Norris. After a respectable run in action movies from the 1970s and the 1980s, Norris was aiming to soften his image as an action star of some pretty damn bloody and violent films for more family-friendly material. Without a major theatrical hit in some time as the Cannon machine slid downhill, Walker, Texas Ranger was next on deck. In between, Chuck teamed up with his brother Aaron for Sidekicks which turns out to be a pretty entertaining flick three decades later.
The parallels with The Karate Kid are pretty striking as a bullied kid is trained in the mysterious ways of martial arts by a wise old sage. Where this one has something going for it is the kid has a bizarre love for Chuck Norris and it fuels his rich fantasy life of going on adventures with his hero. The A story doesn’t count for much. It’s these cartoonish reenactments of movies like The Hitman, The Octagon, and Missing in Action that make it count. While chuck could look like he was just going through the motions in this movie, Jonathan Brandis looked like he was having a great time! Watching this and recently reconnecting with Sea Quest, Brandis was a talented young actor and it’s a genuine shame he ended his life when he did.
As a whole, the film is pretty basic and predictable without any surprises. It’s family-friendly almost to a fault as any character drama is fairly rote and routine right down to the widower father who hasn’t been able to move on in the last ten years. For this role, Beau Bridges basically recycles the same character he played in 1989’s The Wizard. It’s largely a thankless part but Bridges does his best to give it some energy as the affable lovelorn father. Julia Nickson does well enough as Barry’s teacher and the constant fantasy damsel in distress while Mako once again delivers an entertaining turn as the wise Mickey-meets-Miagi Mr. Chen. But when it comes to pure scene-chewing no one delivers like Piscopo. In any other movie, his antics would be obnoxious but Aaron Norris has him dialed in perfectly for this run as Chuck’s nemesis Stone. He even gets to go full ham with a hilarious Van Damme moment!
No, Sidekicks isn’t a great movie and I freely admit my affinity for it is a pure nostalgia morphine drip. I was all of ten years old when I saw this in theaters and since it was one of the few action movies that weren’t rated R that my friends could see, it was a rental mainstay for years. Even as a kid I knew this wasn’t a great movie, but like 3 Ninjas or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, it was a flick I’d regularly watch because it was just mindless fun. The kind of thing you could have on in the background while staging a massive brawl between your G.I. Joe toys and Kenner Aliens figures. So now 30 years later, it’s nice to see Sidekicks is still a good bit of harmless fun. I probably won’t pull ut off the shelf very often, but it’s nice knowing it's in the collection.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Sidekicks jumps into action for a brand new 2-disc 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release from Vinegar Syndrome. The fifth entry in their growing VSU sublabel, the 4K is pressed on a Region Free BD-66 with the 1080p version and the bulk of the bonus features appearing on a Region A BD-50 disc. True to the VSU line, the discs are housed in a standard black 2-disc case without being stacked. The case has reversible insert artwork offering the golden theatrical poster art with a slipcover offering the white video artwork. Also included is a 40-page booklet featuring photos and essays from the film designed to look like one of Barry’s martial arts magazines. The whole package is housed in a magnetic bookcase with slick new custom art by Robert Sammelin.
Sourced from a new scan of the 35mm negative, Vinegar Syndrome gives this rental shop favorite a damned impressive HDR10 transfer. From the get-go of Barry’s first fantasy team-up with Chuck to the final martial arts tournament, the film looks fantastic. I hadn’t seen this flick in years and was blown away by the details in facial features, costumes, and the impressive effort in recreating scenes from some of Norris’ films. Film grain has a natural cinematic texture without appearing too noisy or distracting.
The HDR10 grading yields some impressive results for black levels, whites, and colors. Skin tones are healthy and natural while primaries get plenty of attention. Blacks are nice and deep with some great shadow definition for an image with plenty of depth. Whites are also bold and crisp - those white Karate gee’s or Barry’s fantasy white ninja suit are bright perfect white without blooming. I can't imagine this film has ever looked this good - even in theaters!
Sidekicks jumps into action with an effective DTS-HD MA 2.0 track. Dialog is strong and clear throughout without issue. Sound effects have the delightful canned 80s quality that is appropriately heightened for the big action sequences. Atmosphere is well-defined, classrooms, gymnasiums and the big martial arts tournament feel nice and expansive with an open soundscape. Alan Silvestri delivers a respectable score for the film, it’s not Back to the Future but it’s active enough to give the bigger setpieces plenty of heft. Free of any issues, this is an all around solid mix.
For the bonus features package Vinegar Syndrome delivers some nifty extras worth taking a look at. On the 4K disc are a pair of Audio Commentaries, the first is an entertaining sitdown with filmmaker Joe Begos and some friends while the second commentary features director Aaron Norris with Brad Henderson for a new commentary. Norris is engaged and active throughout highlighting aspects of the production and working with his brother again and getting the film to theaters. The Begos and friends commentary is a ton of fun, it’s like hanging out with a bunch of friends gathering together to watch a movie and riff away while thoroughly enjoying the show. After that we get a bunch of new interviews with Aaron Norris and other cast and crew that are well worth checking out
4K UHD Disc
Sure, Sidekicks isn’t the greatest movie ever made and it apes more than a few plot points from movies like The Karate Kid, but it’s got a big heart with great humor. It’s also a fun greatest hits reel of Chuck Norris’ movies! A nostalgic rental favorite, it was a lot of fun reconnecting with this one. Thanks to Vinegar Syndrome, Sidekicks picks up a winning 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release with a terrific HDR10 transfer, clean clear audio, and a few hours of interesting bonus features including two worthwhile commentary tracks. Recommended