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‘John G. Avildsen: King of The Underdogs’ (review)

Produced By Derek Wayne Johnson,
Chris May, Emmett James
Written and Directed by Derek Wayne Johnson

Starring Sylvester Stallone, Ralph Macchio,
Martin Scorsese, Burt Reynolds, Jerry Weintraub,
Talia Shire, John G. Avildsen Luke Perry,
William Zabka, Carl Weathers, Martin Kove

I’ll watch just about any Hollywood documentary you put in front of me.

Even if it’s about a filmmaker that I hate, I’ll watch it.

Even if it’s about Michael Bay.

Luckily, this film isn’t about someone I hate. It’s just about someone that I was pretty indifferent to.

John G. Avildsen is sort of a lost film hero, and Derek Wayne Johnson is here to make you know that in your very soul.

If you’ve never heard of Avildsen, you might be forgiven. He directed two truly iconic films (Rocky and The Karate Kid), a couple of good films that led to Oscar noms for the actors or writers (Joe, Save The Tiger), one film that I love, but gets lost i the shuffle a lot (The Power Of One) and one film that most people have seen, but usually confuse with Stand And Deliver (Lean On Me).

He also directed Neighbors, For Keeps?, A Night In Heaven, both Karate Kid sequels and Rocky V…so your mileage may vary.

Only knowing about Rocky, Karate Kid and The Power Of One before going into this doc, I was ready to learn about Avildsen. I was ready to be among the converted. And I certainly am…to a point. I think Johnson did a great job of finding actors who loved working with Avildsen. Even Burt Reynolds, who admits to not really “gelling with” him, says that he was a great filmmaker and wished that they had gotten on better. (Burt was in W.W. And The Dixie Dancekings. Yeah. I’ve never heard of it, either. Even after this documentary I’ve barely heard of it.)

The problem with this movie is the same problem with a LOT of Hollywood docs: it really seems like a DVD special feature. A really good one, but still just something you watch if you happen to have an hour and seventeen minutes after watching Rocky. It’s very congratulatory of Avildsen’s career, really only focusing on the highs, except for Rocky V. It’s the biggest misstep of his career (and basically ended it), so they couldn’t ignore it like Karate Kid III.

Basically, in a career of twenty-seven films, five are talked about in depth. Another five are talked about glancingly (one of those, The Power Of One, only because it was the film debut of Daniel Craig). The rest are basically completely ignored. I know there isn’t time to go through every film of a director’s career, but it seems like there are some real holes here. What about his first feature, Turn On To Love? How about his last film, Desert Heat (aka, Inferno), with Van Damme? I know he had his name taken off of the poster, but what was the story with that? He talked about the original ending of Rocky V and how he felt that the rewritten ending was the entire reason for the film’s failure (it wasn’t). Could he not talk about the studio meddling in Desert Heat?

I guess the movie does what it’s supposed to. I want to see more of Avildsen’s films. But it isn’t necessarily because I think that these films are going to be great. It’s because I didn’t learn enough about the films from this documentary. (Except for Rocky and The Karate Kid. I learned a whole lot about those.)

John G. Avildsen: King of The Underdogs is now available on, iTunes and digital platforms.

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