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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 John Beachem
1 star out of 4

Agent Neil Shaw (Wesley Snipes) is a covert ops agent for the UN (I didn't even know the UN had a covert ops unit). He and his teammate, Bly (Michael Biehn), are employed by the Secretary General, Douglas Thomas (Donald Sutherland), and his right-hand man (his words, not mine), Eleanor Hooks (Anne Archer). His latest assignment involves spying on a Chinese diplomat (James Hong), who gets assassinated right in front of Shaw's eyes. Soon Shaw is on his own, after his teammates are killed, and he's running from both the Chinese and the Americans, since they believe he killed the diplomat. Thrown into the mix is a Chinese version of Donald Trump (movie's words, not mine), David Chan (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), who may know more about the assassination than he's letting on. The only person on his side is a Chinese reporter, Julia Fang (the very cute Marie Matiko), who knows he wasn't the assassin. Against him is FBI agent Frank Capella (Maury Chaykin), who is investigating a different crime which seems to link to the slain diplomat. Now Shaw and Julia have only 24 hours to clear his name, before...

... where was I? Sorry, I sort of drifted off for a minute there. "The Art of War" is something of an anomaly amongst action movies. It's an action movie which is intent on featuring as little action as possible. That's why, despite the fact that I'd had plenty of sleep, I was drifting off every twenty minutes or so. So what does Duguay ("Screamers") insert instead of action? Some of the worst dialogue you're likely to hear. "The Art of War" is an action movie with no action; a political thriller with no thrills; and a mystery you'll have figured out in the first twenty five minutes. Alright, alright, I know there's only one real question on your mind, and it's that you want to know if it's entertaining. I'm afraid not. In fact, you'll probably be indulging in one of three different activities rather than watching the movie. You might be snoring (quite a few people in the audience at my showing were doing that), you might me checking your watch (I wish I could have been doing that, but my pocket-watch has no indiglo), or you might be chatting with your neighbor (the rest of the audience was doing that). In case you're wondering, I was busy doodling on my notebook. Why am I sitting here, rambling about everyone's activities during the movie? Because writing a review for a truly dull movie is almost as bad as watching one.

Ah the acting, the acting is certainly one of the more dismal points to "The Art of War". Wesley Snipes has two acting modes: Slyly humorous and friendly (like in "Major League"), and gruffly stoic (like in "Blade"). Snipes is in full stoic mode in "The Art of War", which is a shame because he might have brought some humor to the script otherwise. Instead, the humor all comes from Maury Chaykin ("Cutthroat Island"). However, while Chaykin's brand of humor (which generally involves him quietly making strange comments) is rather amusing, it's completely out of place in this movie. Donald Sutherland does nothing more than chew scenery in a few scenes. Marie Matiko ("Mystery Men"), who is a relative newcomer, plays Snipes's love interest (I think) in one of the most tacked on romances I've ever seen. That's not to say she does a poor job; it's just that her role was so useless she couldn't do much with it. Finally, we have Michael Biehn ("Aliens") and Anne Archer ("Rules of Engagement"). I've always found Biehn to be one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood, turning in stellar performances in "The Abyss", "Terminator", and "Aliens". In "Rules of Engagement", Biehn seems to be going out of his way to prove me wrong. He overacts like no one this side of John Lithgow, he uses one of the worst Southern accents I've ever heard, and he fights like a girl. I could beat this guy up. Anne Archer, who I've never thought of as a particularly talented actress, just gives me more ammunition for my arguments against her.

Perhaps in the hands of a more skilled director, "The Art of War" could have been at least vaguely interesting. Afterall, Duguay's idea of neat directorial tricks are as follows: put little trails behind the bullets (pretty original, huh?); show us everything we've already seen in flashbacks as though we're too stupid to remember (I think the movie was actually an hour long, played twice); blast the soundtrack and sound effects at all times till the audiences' ears start bleeding; and throw in completely gratuitous nude scenes so as to appeal to young males who snuck in (most young males in my audience didn't catch the gratuitous nudity, they were too busy sleeping). Then again, with a script like this, maybe the director didn't make much of a difference. For all those (like me) who thought "The Perfect Storm" had horrendous dialogue, wait till you get to sit through this one. My personal favorite was Anne Archer saying: "My instinct tells me there is something lurking beneath the surface." She utters it with complete seriousness, and poor Donald Sutherland is forced to reply without bursting into hysterics (if you look at his face, it's obviously killing him).

So after all this complaining, are there any good points to "The Art of War"? Well, the first fifteen minutes have their moments. Snipes is sneaking into a skyscraper so he can blackmail a general into resuming peace talks (or something like that). The soundtrack during those few scenes is really quite good, and there are one or two decent action scenes (Snipes falling slowly towards earth using a damaged parachute). Also, Snipes may not be the world's best actor, but he does have some impressive moves. The film's ending goes on far past what was necessary, dragging on for about four scenes too many. One last thing - why do some directors (I won't name names) think audiences are so stupid that they feel a need to explain the most obvious ideas? In one scene, Maury Chaykin gets shot in the chest by an assassin after already being in a car accident. The assassin shoots him to ensure he's dead, obviously. After the assassin leaves, Chaykin stands up, curses a little, and proceeds to show us how he's miraculously still alive; a bulletproof vest! What wondrous invention is this? Apparently something fairly new since the assassin didn't even think to shoot Chaykin in the head. "The Art of War" runs an ungodly 117 minutes. I'd recommend it to no one and give it two out of five stars.

Copyright 2000 John Beachem

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