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Cradle 2 The Grave By Matt Singer
If you took Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker, subtracted the good cheer and on-screen chemistry, the result would look something like Jet Li and DMX, the stars of the new kung fu film, Cradle 2 The Grave. Li and DMX aren’t terrible; in fact, they perform better than expected, but one can’t deny that they are really sullen; Li’s worrying about some precious stones while DMX’s got his missing daughter to think about. Lighten up guys! There’s no crying in kung-fu movies!
DMX plays Jack Fait, which probably means at some point in development, this project was called Twist of Fait or Leave it to Fait or something like that. He plays a riff on his character from Exit Wounds, a guy who looks like a thief but is actually a caring nice guy when you get to know him. In this film, he plays a jewel thief, but steals only from mean people, and only to support his exorbitant lifestyle with his cute daughter (Paige Hurd). In Cradle, he robs the wrong black diamonds from the wrong arms dealers. While the fiendish Mark Dacascos holds his daughter hostage, Fait must recover the stones, which he loses nearly as fast as he steals them, and fend off an enigmatic Asian man named Su, who is also very interested in the stones, but for different reasons.
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Jet Li’s yet to find that perfect crossover vehicle like Chan with Rush Hour, even though he is every bit as skilled a martial artist with a cooler screen presence than Chan. Cradle, like most of Li’s American films, plays to his strength of quiet intensity and amazing physical skills, but his dialogue is still kept to a minimum and spoken in a tentative whisper. When Li is allowed to take on an entire club of ultimate fighters or repel down a building using only his hands, he can amaze us, but you can’t deny he has yet to find any film that comes close to matching the best of Hong Kong work. DMX has the stature and growl of an action hero, but works best when he does not have to emote in any way; oddly, his tender speeches feel just as forced as his angry ones. He has no shades; one second he speaks normally and the next HE IS YELLING REALLY LOUD! And call me crazy, but as catchy as that ‘X Gonna Give It To Ya” song is, with all the “UH!”s and “YEAH!”s, I fear the man may have Tourettes.
The first two-thirds of Cradle 2 The Grave is a tad uneven but the film gets a serious shot in the arm as Li becomes an unwitting entrant in an underground fight club while, elsewhere, DMX flees the police on an all-terrain vehicle. Suddenly there’s almost too much good stuff on the screen, and you’re struggling to take it all in. It’s also at this moment that the film says goodbye to reality and embraces its inner 1980s action movie. All of a sudden, we have idiot cops who search cars by looking in the windows (Hey, how bout the trunk fellas?), and fiendish, mustache stroking arms dealers who witness a gibberish filled weapons display, and kung-fu kicking children. The movie has the gall to suggest that a ring of fire could just naturally appear, and for its enthusiastic dedication to trying to make the impossible seem absolutely natural, I applaud it.
Director Andrzej Bartkowiak is a bit too cut happy to make a really good kung fu movie - truly great martial arts scenes need long enough takes to let the action play out clearly. I am not sure if Bartkowiak prefers this many cuts or he is working with actors, Li aside, whose skills are not good enough to work in long takes, but regardless, it is not to my taste. But I did like the final third of the film a great deal as a guilty, stupid pleasure, and Tom Arnold has not been this funny since the first time he was ever funny, in True Lies. This is not much of a success, but for a matinee price, you’ve got a decent action movie.