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Cradle 2 the Grave Print E-mail
Tuesday, 01 June 2004

Cradle 2 The Grave

Warner Home Video
MPAA rating: R
starring: Jet Li, DMX, Anthony Anderson, Kelly Hu, Tom Arnold, Mark Dacascos, Gabrielle Union, Michael Jace, Drag-On
release year: 2003
film rating: One Star
sound/picture: Three and a half stars
reviewed by: Bill Warren

Jet Li and Jackie Chan were -- and are -- major stars of Hong Kong action films, but so far have not had as much success in the United States. Chan has had a few popular films, but only when paired with an American star. Jet Li's "Romeo Must Die" did reasonably well, but "The One" tanked. Now he's paired with DMX, a hip-hop/rapper who should not be mistaken for an actor. And the result is trash.

The title, to begin with, means absolutely nothing. It's just a catch-phrase with a "to" trendily replaced by a "2" in order to make it look cool. It's unlikely that anyone in the target audience -- adolescent boys -- gave a moment's thought to the title. The "2" told them all they needed to know. The rest of us roll our eyes.

There's something vaguely resembling a plot, crudely engineered to provide enough action scenes to fill up the running time. The script by John O'Brien and Channing Gibson doesn't provide characterization, just a few traits; it has structure only in the broadest meaning of the term -- this happens, then that happens, then this other thing happens, then there's a big fight, and then the movie is over. Sometimes the effort to provide enough stuff for the graceful, dynamic Li to do becomes strained and dismayingly obvious. At one point, Taiwanese secret agent (now there's a novelty) Su (Jet Li) has to see some guy. This guy hangs out not at a pool hall, not at a restaurant, but at a secret venue for bare-knuckle brawling. Gosh, what a coincidence. On top of this insulting obviousness, director Andrzej Bartkowiak doesn't even photograph the Jet Li-vs.-the-room battle well, and the frenetic editing removes any touches of grace and style.

DMX is John Fait, who leads a team of jewel robbers. Just so we don't think that he's, you know, a bad guy for being a thief, a line suggests that he only steals from drug dealers and other miscreants (as if the gems are labeled "loot"). On top of that, he's the single father of adorable daughter Vanessa (Paige Hurd). This makes ordinary cheap plotting look like the height of wit.

Su spectacularly arrives in the movie's most amazing stunt scene. To reach a room on a lower floor of a handsome Santa Monica high rise, he simply falls down the side of the building, catching himself at each successive balcony. There's a brief documentary included on the DVD showing how this stunt was done. Needless to say, it involves a lot of CG wire-removal and a brave stunt man.

Fait and his team, which includes the breathtakingly beautiful Daria (Gabrielle Union) and the enormous Tommy (Anthony Anderson, usually more appealing than he is here), has just pulled off a spectacular, if technically unlikely, jewel robbery. Their treasure includes some odd, very black "gems" (they look like pieces of polished licorice) that turn out to be the McGuffin everyone is after.

“Everyone” includes the glacial, elegant Ling (Mark Dacascos), who arrives by private jet and immediately sets out in quest of those black stones. Meanwhile, Su, Fait and the others contact cloddish Archie (Tom Arnold), who seems to be an arms dealer -- at least, we first see him driving a tank. They're also required to meet with imprisoned mobster Jump Chambers (an unbilled Chi McBride), who lives like a king in a spacious cell. The relevance of most of this to the plot, such as it is, remains foggy, but then, we're not supposed to be involved in the plot mechanisms, most of which are pretty obvious.

Hoping to force Fait into giving up the black stones, Ling and his slinky partner Sona (Kelly Hu) kidnap Vanessa, who's spunky but only nine. She's imprisoned inside a van within a big warehouse. Why a van? For a later action scene, of course. Twice, Fait and Su each "know" something -- good thing, because they're lousy detectives, and it would take forever to watch them figure everything out. Psychic abilities are so handy.

This forces Fait and Su to join forces. The black “gems” have somehow come under the control of Chambers, which leads to a bored-looking Su taking on a ring full of fighters, including a midget. Fait is then arrested. To get away, he takes off his handcuffs (yes, he just takes them off) and leaps into a convenient all-terrain vehicle, which as we all know, can be found on any corner in downtown Los Angeles. It is very fortunate that Fait is a master of ATV technique, as he roars down streets, in and out of buildings, up and down staircases, and finally leaps from one building to another, still on the ATV, his black coat flowing stylishly behind him.

When Ling calls together a group of the world's best-dressed arms dealers, we finally learn the dread secret of the black thingies. They are nuclear, very nuclear. Pretty green lasers make them do their stuff, and they'll lower the cost of weapons of mass destruction to the point where, say, Liechtenstein could afford an arsenal of them.

Of course, there is a climactic fight between the boy named Su and Ling, who were, of course, once friends. It's well photographed but very badly edited for this kind of thing. Martial arts for movies should be a form of choreography, not the kind of dizzying, mind-numbing editing required when you have a couple of combatants who really can't do this stuff. Li and Dacascos (of "The Brotherhood of the Wolf") really CAN do this stuff, though, so this is a major waste. However, there is a feature on the DVD that allows you to try editing parts of this sequence for yourself. This makes it all even more confusing, which may be what was wanted.

Technically, the film is fine; Joel Silver produced (and boy, has he slipped lately), so it has a great, wide-screen sheen. The surround sound is brilliantly used, less for the sound effects of the chases and fights than for the well-selected music track, laden with hip-hop material. (The opening scene is to a song done by DMX himself, with Eminem on backup.)

The best scene in the film is the last, in which Arnold and Anderson finally get a chance to show how funny they can be. They seem to be improvising their discussion about who should play them and the others when this story is turned into a movie. And they discuss "Exit Wounds" from the same director, in which they both appeared and apparently concluded the film with a similar scene. But it's a long wait to get to this.

There are plentiful extras; I couldn't find the Easter eggs, but maybe you can. The DVD provides a first-rate package for a third-rate movie. But Li still has Hong Kong.

more details
sound format:
Dolby Digital 5.1
special features: Making-Of Featurette; Edit Feature; Two Easter Eggs; DVD-ROM PC Features
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 36-inch Sony XBR

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