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Hip-hop vibe rocks chop-socky `Cradle'.

CRADLE 2 THE GRAVE

A Warner Bros. release of a Silver Pictures production. Produced by Joel Silver. Executive producers, Herbert W. Gians, Ray D. Copeland. Co-producers, Susan Levin, Melina Kevorkian.

Directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak. Screenplay, John O'Brien, Channing Gibson, from a story by O'Brien. Camera (Technicolor, Panavision widescreen), Daryn Okada; editor, Derek G. Brechin; music, John Frizzell, Damon "Grease" Blackman; music supervisors, Tina Davis, Randy Acker; production designer, David Klassen; art director, Richard Mays; set decorator, Gary Fettis; costume designer, Ha Nguyen; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS/SDDS), Keith Wester; martial arts choreographer, Corey Yuen; visual effects supervisor, Bryan Hirota; associate producers, Richard Mirisch, Gil Williams; assistant director, Jeffrey Wetzel; second unit director/stunt coordinator, Dan Bradley; second unit camera, Robert La Bonge, Philip C. Pfeiffer; casting, Mary Gail Artz, Barbara Cohen. Reviewed at Warner Bros. screening room, New York, Feb. 20, 2003. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 99 MIN.
Su                    Jet Li
Tony Fait                DMX
Tommy       Anthony Anderson
Sona                Kelly Hu
Archie            Tom Arnold
Ling           Mark Dacascos
Daria        Gabrielle Union
Odion           Michael Jace
Miles                Drag-On
Vanessa           Paige Hurd
Chamber          Chi McBride


Cradle 2 the Grave" producer Joel Silver returns with gusto to the mix of martial arts action and urban attitude that proved so commercially potent in "Romeo Must Die." Reteaming director Andrzej Bartkowiak with Jet Li and rapper DMX--who's graduated from the supporting ranks to co-star with the Hong Kong dynamo--the new vehicle muddies the formula with some preposterous final-act developments concerning world domination that might have been more at home in the 007 realm. Nonetheless, pic's sustained rush of kick-butt fight action and vehicular chases, spiked with the usual hip-hop/techno soundtrack, should lure young male audiences in droves, spelling high-octane B.O. and stellar DVD prospects for the Warner Bros. release.

During a stylish laser-beam title sequence, the sharply executed opening tracks the moves of master thief Tony Fait (DMX) and his crew as they break in via subway tunnels and underground passages to a high-security jewelry exchange. Meanwhile, Taiwanese intelligence agent Su (Li) shimmies down the outer wall of a high-rise and bitchslaps Fait's contact into submission, extracting details of the score and calling cops to intervene. But after a hair-raising exit on the roof of a moving subway car, Fait and comely accomplice Daria (Gabrielle Union) make off with a bag of black diamonds.

Fait leaves the stones with his fence Archie (Tom Arnold) to establish their value. But when word gets out, bad-ass crime lord and VIP prison inmate (Chi McBride) sends his stooges on the outside to swipe the stash, later revealed to be far more valuable than mere diamonds. After initially clashing, Fait and Su are forced by circumstance to team up when the latter's childhood friend and former government agent-gone-bad Ling (Mark Dacascos) starts pursuing the stones, kidnapping Fait's 8-year-old daughter (Paige Hurd) for leverage.

En route to the final faceoff, Bartkowiak and screenwriters John O'Brien and Channing Gibson keep the downtime to a minimum, juicing the action with a high-speed chase through the L.A. streets led by Fait and, most entertainingly, a WWF-style bout in a fight club that pits Su against a cageful of angry Neanderthals. Choreographed by long-term Li collaborator Corey Yuen, the martial arts confrontations supply plenty of spark, though they lack the more exhilarating stylistic flourishes of those in "Romeo."

Where the film veers off the rails is in revelations regarding the true properties of the black diamonds, demonstrated by Ling with the aid of a laser oscillator before an ethnically mixed bunch of upscale sleaze-bags identified as the world's foremost arms dealers. These arch scenes cry out for Dr. Evil. However, the setup segues confidently to a triple-clash climax, intercutting between three mano-a-mano fights, respectively involving Su, Fait and Daria, the latter in some girl-on-girl action against Ling's sexy sidekick Sona (Kelly Hu).

Editor Derek G. Brechin, who cut "Romeo" and subsequent Silver-Bartkowiak-DMX collaboration "Exit Wounds," keeps things humming along. This, and Daryn Okada's muscular, extremely agile and angular camerawork help pump the action and camouflage weaknesses such as the absence of a more memorable villain or lack of definition in the relationship between Fait and Daria.

While Li continues to show little development as an English-language actor in his scant dialogue scenes, the star's precision foot- and fist-work remain superlative, barely breaking a sweat or altering his stoic expression as he flattens a series of adversaries. And while DMX is no match in the fight department, the hip-hop star registers with a cool, commanding presence, the chemistry between the two oddly matched leads proving more than serviceable. Continuing the trend in Silver actioners to develop black characters that break the standard gangsta mold, Fait is a "good" criminal, a devoted, loving father operating with a no-guns policy and reminding his crew they're stealing from pimps and drug-runners. Union looks alluring, but is underused.

Comic relief again is provided by Anthony Anderson as Fait's crewmember Tommy, particularly in a scene in which he uses his motor-mouth charms to distract a gay security guard. Repeating the device from "Exit Wounds," Anderson and Arnold amusingly riff on the end credits about writing and casting their own action film based on the characters' experiences.
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Title Annotation:Cradle 2 the Grave
Author:Rooney, David
Publication:Variety
Article Type:Movie Review
Date:Mar 3, 2003
Words:867
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