Cradle 2 the Grave
Jet Li and DMX all up in the hizziz, yo bitch-ass motherf**kers! Joel Silver unleashes another mid-budget clunker. A'ight?
Shame on Joel Silver. He's had his head so far up his matrix-obsessed arse that after 3 attempts he still can't put one of China's finest ever young martial arts actors in a decent Hollywood movie. Perhaps it's because Hollywood just doesn't make proper kung-fu/action flicks (ask John Woo). Perhaps it's because Li is a sell-out who's only interested in wads of lovely green sheets. Or perhaps, and here's the truth of the matter, Mr. Silver just can't be bothered about the crap he churns out any more. Our point in case tonight is Cradle 2 the Grave, a movie so unnecessarily dire I'm glad I went to see it on April 1st, as I can at least try and fool myself into believing it's all been an elaborate joke.
If Exit Wounds failed to convince you DMX can't act worth a shit, just check out this little baby and the message will be hammered home like a ten inch nail to the head. Tony Fait (DMX) and his gang of good-guy jewel thieves (hey, he says at the start that they only rob drug dealers and the like, so obviously they're nice) make a daring, nay preposterous raid on a diamond exchange, establishing that they're on a job to steal some curious 'black stones' for a client who remains anonymous for now. Having pulled off the job, the crew split up; Tony and his female sidekick Daria (Gabrielle Union, shame she's not a member of an acting one) heading one way through the subway, and another member the other. Whilst the famous rapper and his lovely make a largely clean getaway (tube train rooftop-based cop dodging aside), the other poor chap whose name I've already forgotten gets his head kicked in a bit by Su Duncan (Jet Li), a Taiwanese man with a bad attitude, an astounding knowledge of Kung-Fu, and a mission to recover the black stones himself.
It all sounds very silly doesn't it? Having failed to recover enough stones for themselves to make any profit, Fait and the gang decide they should put the black stones on the market, using black market racketeer Archie (Tom Arnold) to spread the word. A silly idea from the start, word reaches the anonymous criminal mastermind that his stones are up for auction rather than delivery and naturally he's a bit miffed, and so he sends his guys round to rough Archie up a bit. He divulges the details with little resistance, taking the defensive stance of not really wanting to get beaten up ("he had a really nice ring and I kept thinking about what it would do to my face"), and so the nefarious mastermind, who we by now know is Ling (Mark Dacascos) takes the radically new and untried criminal plot-motivating step of kidnapping Fait's daughter. Presumably we're supposed to care about this, as a good few minutes are spent at the start of the film establishing that Fait really, really, really, really loves his daughter and she really, really, really, really loves her daddy. Unfortunately all this expectation falls on deaf ears, because what we're really, really, really, really here to see is Jet Li kicking more ass, and he rather rightly does.
Now, this is no Legend of Fong Sai Yuk, but at least the script-writer had the good sense to set up a couple of decent scraps for us to enjoy, not least of all an unplanned cage match between Li and pretty much the whole UFC squad. At the same time. This is undoubtedly the highlight of the movie, and it must be said the other fight scenes offer a reasonable amount of chop-sockey to be appreciated, however director Andrzej Bartkowiak sees fit to employ an epileptic film editor and the whole flow is ruined by the kind of kinetic camera-swapping that could render a blind man cataleptic at a hundred paces. Rather than let the fighting flow naturally, there's so much cutting going on that we change angles three times between a punch being thrown and it actually landing. When a man like Li is in motion, it's almost always a better idea to let the camera rest so we can enjoy the sheer beauty with which the man staves heads in, yet no western director seems to have learned this. Consequently it's almost impossible to see what's going on during any of the fights, and surely for a film with so much martial arts involvement this is a cardinal sin.
Beneath all the punching and kicking the plot trundles on, propelling our anti-heroes on through various other improbable encounters with nameless bad guys, all of whom are surprisingly adept at martial arts, regardless of race or origin, such is the norm for these kinds of movies nowadays. It eventually transpires after Ling re-acquires the stones that he wants them for an arms auction. Apparently these stones are actually a synthetic material with properties much like plutonium, only with an exponentially greater yield-to-mass ratio. It's a huge revelation (ahem) to learn that Su is a Secret Service agent sent from Taiwan where they were manufactured to return them before all kinds of mischief ensue at the hands of Ling, and finally he tracks his nemesis down to an airfield where the auction is to take place.
Anyone unable to suspend disbelief who hasn't already stopped reading should do so now. Everyone else who doesn't mind the ending being spoiled in favour of an expos? on how daft it is should utilise a ROT-13 descrambler such as this one, by cutting and pasting into it the following paragraph.
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With the day roundly saved, our crew walk off into the sunset to collect their paycheque. Oh, and they save Fait's daughter, but then nobody seemed to care much anyway, given that the characterisation is so devoid of depth it's almost 1D. Nobody comes to see this kind of thing expecting dramatic character development, but is it really asking too much to harbour a little sympathy for those we're supposedly rooting for? It's not a huge request, but Cradle 2 the Grave fails to even attempt such a thing, and as for the plot coherency...sigh...let's just say the whole thing feels like it was written by a twelve-year-old with a craving for kung-fu and rap music.
It's fair to say Bartkowiak has created a monster, which would be fine if it were a big scary monster. But it's not. Everything about this film is flatter than a flapjack; from the direction to the editing, and from the scripting to it's translation into "performance" by the cast. Even Li seems to be giving up the ghost, never looking anything other than utterly bored by the whole chain of events, not even raising a smile when he's kicking someone in the chops. Now that's bad news...
In short, avoid this at all costs. Not even a sound little rumble with the UFC lads can raise this from the doldrums. No doubt Silver will redeem his producing kudos with the arrival of The Matrix Reloaded in May, but until then steer clear of anything he's put his name to; there's a decidedly whiffy smell to it. Oh, and can someone pleeeease explain to me what the hell the title has to do with the film?
Craig Disko has grudgingly awarded Cradle 2 the Grave 2 out of 5 Random Cack-Factor Units.
DMX (Tony Fait)
Mark Dacascos (Ling)
Gabrielle Union (Daria)