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The Art of War

movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Art of War

Starring: Wesley Snipes, Anne Archer
Director: Christian Duguay
Rated: R
RunTime: 120 Minutes
Release Date: August 2000
Genres: Action, Suspense

*Also starring: Michael Biehn, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Donald Sutherland, Marie Matiko, Liliana Komorowska, James Hong, Maury Chaykin

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
1 star out of 4

Don't be misled by its title. "The Art of War" sounds intriguing, but the actual film is just another glossy B-movie thriller, the kind of forgettable action fare that turns up at odd hours on TV with titles like "Strike Force," "Terminal Impact," or "Deadly Velocity." Besides Wesley Snipes' charisma, the most interesting facet of this production is its peculiar outlook on the capacities of the human body.

During most of "The Art of War," gravity is, at best, an inconvenience. When chased by an opponent, characters routinely leap off the top of tall buildings, plummeting hundreds of feet only to emerge unscathed. Apparently, the trick is to use glass ceilings of adjacent structures to break your fall. In the absence of a glass roof, simply tuck and roll just before hitting the concrete far below. And don't worry about broken glass. Although it makes a great sound while shattering, it will not cut you.

Important safety tip: These rules apply only until the climactic battle scene. During the-fight-to-end-all-fights, a 10-foot-fall will knock the combatants into a stupor and a shard of glass can prove deadly (but only to a bad guy).

Originally intended as a Jet Li vehicle, the story begins in Hong Kong at a lavish party on December 31, 1999 (I wonder how long this lil' epic sat on the shelf). China is finally ready to sign a trade treaty, with United Nations Ambassador Wu (James Hong) and his assistant David Chan (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) working closely with U.N. Secretary General Thomas (Donald Sutherland) on the historic agreement.

Meanwhile, a group of dead Chinese refugees are discovered packed away at the New York harbor by wheezy Agent Cappella (Maury Chaykin).

Cut to the U.N., where Wu is assassinated while delivering his key speech. FBI Agent Neil Shaw (Snipes) leaps into action, chasing the killer off several rooftops. It turns out that there is an elaborate scheme to block the treaty, one that soon draws in Shaw, his wisecracking partner Bly (Michael Biehn), their boss, Eleanor Hook (Anne Archer) and U.N. translator Julia (Marie Matiko).

Readers concerned about plot descriptions that give away the ending of a film have nothing to fear in this review. The convoluted storyline is so confusing that I couldn't explain all the twists and turns even if I wanted to. Basically, Agent Shaw spends 117 minutes chasing bad guys or being chased by both good and bad guys, pausing only long enough to drag poor Julia into the fray.

Director Christian Duguay seems far more concerned with style than substance, devoting most of his attention to fights, flights and gadgets. In fact, a way-cool palm sized computer gets almost as much screen time as Snipes.

After roughly an hour of struggling to keep up with the plot, I surrendered and simply tried to enjoy the excesses of the production. On a guilty pleasure level, there are moments to savor.

Like the scene where Agent Cappella states, "So our boy gets rescued by the Triad, pops one in the melon and turns the rest into Chinese salsa." Who says that quality film writing is dead?

Or the early segment where Agent Shaw parachutes off the top of a skyscraper. A bad guy leans over the edge and uses a machine gun to cut the chute in half right down the middle, forcing Shaw to make one of his dazzling tuck and roll landings. Now, to split a parachute in half from above, the bullets must be aimed directly at the top of Shaw's head, but somehow, he manages to land without a scratch. I guess top-notch FBI agents come equipped with bulletproof hair.

Despite the tsunami of illogic, Wesley Snipes plays it straight and the talented actor projects an appealing James Bond vibe. Several supporting players also show some flair, although the overloaded screenplay allows scant time for any of them to shine.

Compared to most of the utter dreck released this August, "The Art of War" was easy to sit through. Remember, though, that due to my job, I don't have to pay to see this stuff. For those who must shell out hard-earned cash for movies, I suspect the minor pleasures of this one will be best enjoyed on a TV screen at home, where it should turn up in three to four months tops. In the meantime, stick with films like "The Matrix," where invulnerable heroes making gravity-defying leaps remain in a fantasy world more appropriate to their superhuman skills.

Copyright 2000 Edward Johnson-Ott

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