March 6, 2003

Almost Fatal Cradle

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So I’m watching this movie, and it’s only a few minutes into the story, and I see Jet Li standing on top of a tall building. My friend makes a remark about Jet Li miraculously surviving a jump off the building, and sure enough, there he goes, right off the top of the building. Li grabs hold of the edge of each balcony on his way down, and that’s how he makes it to his floor. Then he beats the crap out of a guy that he needs information from. It’s a fantastic opening, and probably the most ingenious action sequence in the movie.

Then there’s DMX, playing the kick-ass-cool jewel thief Tony Fait. We meet him while he’s robbing the “Jewel Exchange” and firing a rocket at a safe to bust it open. Meanwhile, Fait’s female partner, played by Gabrielle Union (how the cheerleader has fallen from Bring it On) was supposed to be distracting the security guard downstairs, but the guard turned out to be gay. In a great scene, another member of the team, Tommy (Anthony Anderson), does quite a job of distracting. If only he were in more of the movie. And for those of you who saw him in Kangaroo Jack, he is actually good, so don’t judge.

The robbery sets up the story as Fait steals some special “black diamonds” that land him in a whole lot of trouble. Mark Dacascos plays Ling, the owner of the jewels who then employs some dubious methods to recover them. Su (Li) is the Taiwanese intelligence officer that is tracking Ling down and attempting to secure the diamonds. And being as annoying as he possibly can is Tom Arnold as Archie, an arms dealer/fence.

In a nod to the many parent groups upset about the increase of violence in movies, Fait’s gang has a no-gun policy that is only taken out of effect at the very end of the movie, when it’s absolutely necessary. One of my favorite results of this no-gun rule is watching Union’s character, Daria, use her coat to take on Ling’s female accomplice, Sona (Kelly Hu). Yeah, sure, the coat will protect you. Though it was a rather nice chick fight to watch.

As you would expect from this movie, there are some nice action scenes, some nice gratuitous booty shots, lots of bad dialogue, and plenty of moments when you just want to yell at the screen “Aw, come on!” For example, when Ling is miraculously unscathed climbing out of a helicopter that has just crashed and exploded. But I guess you couldn’t have a great final fight scene with a mortally wounded, flaming bad guy.

As for the choice of bad guys, Dacascos seems to hit all the right notes, inciting my viewing companion to note that he hated Ling as soon as he spoke. Though it’s odd that he made his breakout performance in last year’s Brotherhood of the Wolf (Le Pact Des Loups) portraying the Native American sidekick of the hero, while here he’s playing a Taiwanese fellow. And Chi McBride (Chambers) does a loud impression of a mob boss. It’s certainly a departure from the cuddly principle he portrays on Fox’s Boston Public.

If you like seeing rappers pretend to know martial arts and martial arts stars selling out to make crappy American movies for lots of money, then you’ll like this film. There weren’t quite enough good action sequences in this movie to make me happy, and the ones that were there weren’t really all that inventive or imaginative. Yeah, using a midget as a weapon in a fight, that’s never been done.

Archived article by Sue Karp