CRADLE 2 THE GRAVE
Director: Andrzej Bartkowiak
Cast: Jet Li, DMX, Gabrielle Union, Anthony Anderson, Tom Arnold, Drag-On, Mark Dacascos, Kelly Hu, Paige Hurd
MPAA Rating: (for violence, language and some sexual content)
Running Time: 1:40
Release Date: 2/28/03
Review by Mark Dujsik
Cradle 2 the Grave boasts an oddly abbreviated, mysteriously unconnected title, a generally likable cast, and action scenes that don't just border the ludicrous—they dive head first into it. Admittedly, the movie has a certain kind of appeal to it. There are no false pretenses about the movie's purpose, and there's absolutely no mistaking it as anything other than a mindless action flick. And yet I find myself facing the dilemma that all critics must feel when looking at material like this. Does the movie do what it's supposed to? Yes and no. The action sequences are worthwhile and contain a certain visceral charm, but they make up a relatively small part of the movie as a whole. In between them lies a lot of empty, cliché-ridden plotting that's established so quickly I'm surprised the movie doesn't find time for more action sequences. Had it, I may have been able to overlook a lot and chalk it up to giddy ridiculousness. Instead, the movie is stupid fun when it isn't too busy being just plain stupid.
The movie starts with a diamond heist. You see, Tony Fait (DMX) is a thief, but one with integrity. He doesn't use guns and always sees things from the business side of things. He's gotten together his usual crew of skilled, eclectic, and eccentric thieves to sneak into a vault containing some very rare, very precious black diamonds. Thankfully, the facility only has one security camera to worry about once you get near the vault. Anyway, the robbery is cut short by Su (Jet Li), a mysterious martial arts expert, who anonymously calls the police. He's after the stones as well, but after some threatening encounters, they end up in the hands of a local crime syndicate leader. The problem is that an international group of criminals led by Ling (Mark Dacascos) want the stones as well and even go so far as to kidnap Fait's daughter Vanessa (Paige Hurd) to get them. So now Fait and his gang and Su, who turns out to be a Taiwanese intelligence officer, need to infiltrate the crime syndicate, find the diamonds, find Fait's daughter, and discover the kidnappers' unfolding evil plan.
All of this is related in plot overdrive after the opening heist scene, and from there, the movie takes advantage of each new plot development to establish an action sequence. There's a police chase on a four-wheeler—and not just any four-wheeler, but a really fast four-wheeler—that swerves through buildings and around police cars and jumps over trucks and across gaps in rooftops. The sequence even includes participation by the four-wheeler's owner, who jumps on a motorcycle and chases after Fait along with the cops. There comes a point when every man just says, "Forget it; let the cops handle it." Not this guy, though. The chase is crosscut with Su fighting a group of ultimate fighters, who, of course, come at him one at a time. Jet Li is really something to watch in this scene, and yet, I have the feeling that he could be doing something much better simply based on his face. It's so youthful, but it looks like it's seen a whole lot of past fights. Back to the movie, though. There's actually a lot of crosscutting going on here. Take the last fight, which is actually three at once. We've got Fait battling the last threat to his daughter, a cat fight, and Su taking on the main villain.
To set the last fight up, the main baddie actually survives a horrible helicopter explosion (the poor pilot, on the other hand, is not so lucky, but I assume he knew what he was getting into when he took the job). Unbelievable, but then again this is a movie that somehow allows the world's foremost arms dealers to gather together in one room. You'd think someone would be keeping an eye on these people. Anyway, the explosion does provide a circle of fire for them to fight in, complete with some sort of liquid raining down on them. I'm guessing it's not water, otherwise the fire would go out, and I'm also supposing it isn't gasoline, otherwise they would go up in flames. It must be something in between; let's just say it's vinegar. The fight gives us a chance to see Li and Mark Dacascos battle it out. And just like Li, Dacascos seems capable of something more noteworthy. Just look at his work in Brotherhood of the Wolf, which depended entirely on his appearance, face, and physicality.Much of the remaining cast, really, seems wasted as well. DMX may be far from a good actor, but there's something about him that's interesting to watch. Tom Arnold has done good comic supporting work before, but he doesn't have much to work with on that front here. Then there's Gabrielle Union, who is far too fetching to be reduced to this kind of material. Hopefully, they will find work that better suits them so that Cradle 2 the Grave can stay near the bottom of their résumés.
Copyright © 2003 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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