||read the review
Review by Dustin Putman
2 stars out of 4
Director Andrzej Bartkowiak apparently likes to keep it in the family
when making his films. Aside from DMX and Jet Li starring in his 2000
debut, "Romeo Must Die," DMX and Tom Arnold appeared in his follow-up
feature, "Exit Wounds." For his third attempt behind the camera, Bartkowiak
has concocted "Cradle 2 the Grave," the kind of insignificant, if
painless, action flick that has been filmed and edited precisely for
MTV-generation, attention-deprived audiences. Because the film has
a premise more or less identical to "Romeo Must Die" and "Exit Wounds,"
Bartkowiak has been able to more tightly hone his skills in the process,
even if they are still far from airtight. Thank goodness for small
favors: Steven Seagal is nowhere to be found.
When jewel thief Tony Fait (DMX) and his ragtag cohorts--the wisecracking
Tommy (Anthony Anderson), beautiful and tough Daria (Gabrielle Union),
and go-to guy Miles (Drag-On)--break into a vault and steal a cache
of extremely valuable black diamonds, they do not realize how drastically
others want them. Soon, Tony's 8-year-old daughter, Vanessa (Paige
Hurd), has been kidnapped by maniacal crooks Ling (Mark Dacascos)
and Sona (Kelly Hu), who want the jewels as a means of creating mass
destruction. To save his daughter, Tony joins up with Taiwanese government
agent Su (Jet Li), who has a personal claim on Ling's life and can
ably predict his every move.
In six words, "Cradle 2 the Grave" is hackneyed, preposterous, disposable,
undemanding, diverting, and energetic. Written by John O'Brien and
Channing Gibson, the only actual wit to be found in the dialogue comes
during the end credits as Tommy and small-arms dealer Archie (Tom
Arnold) discuss who would be cast if what has just happened to them
were made into a movie. What is so telling is that this inordinately
bright and funny dialogue was clearly ad-libbed, proving that O'Brien
and Gibson aren't nearly as good of writers as its actors are when
they are merely coming up with shtick on the spot.
The characters are stock figures who either (1) push the plot forward,
or (2) are on hand to act as comic relief. Anthony Anderson (2003's
"Kangaroo Jack") is more successful at the latter than Tom Arnold,
whose character, to the best of my knowledge, has no actual purpose
aside from tagging along and spouting off throwaway jokes. In the
lead roles, DMX isn't overly annoying or out of place as Tony, but
does get forced into some embarrassingly syrupy moments with his screen
daughter. As Su, Jet Li (2001's "The One") has charisma and impressive
fighting skills; now he needs to study the English language. The lovely
Gabrielle Union (2003's "Deliver Us From Eva"), as sexy good girl
Daria, and Kelly Hu (2002's "The Scorpion King"), as nasty, child-hating
Sona, fill out the female requirements with aplomb.
If "Cradle 2 the Grave," which has a title even more nonsensical than
the out-of-left-field, fantasy-laden plot development in the second
half, is better than it ought to be, it is because of a few taut and
stylish action sequences and stunts that boast showmanship. Near the
beginning, Jet Li drops down floor by floor on the outside of a hotel,
while later DMX proves why "all-terrain" vehicles adopt such a name
in a nice chase interlude. The finale is also not too shabby, if slightly
disjointed, as it jumps between three different fights to death going on at the same time.
In the end, however, the filmmakers and actors responsible must question
how advantageous it was to dedicate their time to something so inconsequential.
With such little innovation and a story not believable enough to care
one iota about, the only thing left to do is admire the pyrotechnics
and fight choreography. "Cradle 2 the Grave" is a big-screen version
of junk food. Nutritionally, it is worthless, but it can be fun to
experience. You'll just kick yourself afterward for wasting your time.
Copyright © 2003 Dustin Putman