August 31, 2000

War Is a Bomb

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In the recent mythology of American cinema, the spy has taken on the persona of superhero. He (as it is always a he) can be shot at repeatedly and from many angles, falls from buildings both large and larger, always has the right toy for the task, can absorb numerous blows from furious fists and other instruments of death, and always manages to come away virtually unscathed. The Wesley Snipes vehicle The Art of War takes this formula and runs with it, plowing through scene after scene of formulaic screenplay and one-dimensional acting coupled with overused camera tricks and the cacophony of explosion sequences.

Directed by Christian Duguay (Scanners II), the film relies on a barrage of action-thriller sequences heavily (though inferiorily) borrowed from The Matrix and John Woo films, which serve as the only stimulation for the audience. The screenplay, written by Wayne Beach and Simon Davis Barry is filled with cliched, predictable dialogue, which creates a frenzied collage of one-dimensional characters who portray little emotion on-screen. Death is a most arbitrary happening as well, as extended plunges into concrete are only momentary setbacks, while swift kicks to the face end lives instantaneously.

The storyline goes as follows: Shaw (Wesley Snipes) is a covert spy working for the United Nations who acts as an unknown catalyst influencing geopolitical events. The latest problem is a reign of terror purportedly coming from a Chinese terrorist movement, affecting all parties involved in a global free-trade agreement with China. Shaw, working largely unsupported, must thwart the crazed Chinese terrorist movement in order to preserve the trade agreement and uphold international stability. Little does Shaw know, that when engaged in the “art of war,” conspiracy is reality, and no one is to be trusted …

It is hard, however, to find the motivation to care. Though the sets and action sequences are grand and visually engaging, the character’s lack of depth, incoherent scene switches and overall transparency of storyline undermine these positive attributes. Beyond skeletal charicatures of good and evil, there is a complete absence of subtlety underlying behavior. There is no insight into character, no development