|Often the biggest highlight of films that deal with martial arts is well choreographed martial arts sequences that are thrown in every few scenes or so. And while Cradle 2 the Grave does include martial arts star Jet Li on its cast roster, the film actually does the genre a disservice in its shoddy treatment of Li's ability. Owing to a script which could have been written with more style and wit by a three-year-old and a propensity to allow MTV style editing to take over the fight sequences, this film doesn't do a lot of things right. It could have been "just another action movie" with substandard dialogue (quite a normal occurrence) and exciting fight/chase scenes.|
But this film hits a new low with action movie dialogue (some characters barely speak more than four lines over the course of the entire film) and this film proves very well that one must have at least engaging dialogue or well made action sequences to stay afloat. Having both those attributes will garner an action film the respect of a wide demographic, but when these two basic elements are missing entirely, the film can become a disaster. Critics and fans alike are often heard referring to a film as a "serviceable action film" when the whole film is just car chase after explosion after gun fight, and in many cases, it really doesn't matter what the characters say, as long as the story has enough turns in it to keep one interested.
It's not an impossible task to create a decent plot for a film, but the sequence of events in Cradle 2 the Grave really have been seen a thousand times before. And since the explosions aren't any bigger than we've seen before and the martial arts sequences seem to have been butchered into tiny pieces by the editor, it's hard to reason what benefit one will receive from watching this film. After the mild success of Romeo Must Die (the most entertaining Jet Li film to date) and Exit Wounds (a surprise hit for Steven Seagal), it seems inevitable that a martial arts/crime syndicate film (martial arts films so often deal with the mob and the underworld) would be put on screen again.
Polish cinematographer Andrzej Bartkowiak, who first sat in the director's chair in 2000 with Romeo Must Die, doesn't seem to have brought anything new to this type of film, as the parallels between Cradle, Romeo and his 2001 film Exit Wounds are too numerous to count. While Romeo was a fresh film when it came out, there have been so many similarly hued films produced in the short amount of time since that film was produced, that the story is now a tired one. The "reluctant alliance" or "unlikely partners" scenario of each of these films has become so common that it might be possible to place this type of film in a genre all its own.
The performance abilities of the actors' notwithstanding, it seems harsh to criticize a cast for lackluster performances in the light of such a drab screenplay. As an actor without many titles under his belt, rapper DMX makes a marginal improvement as "Tony Fait," an expert thief, though he benefits from having the most logical character in the film. The actors who are members of his "elite team," which include perpetually second fiddle actor Anthony Anderson, are included solely as plot devices (comic relief, etc.) and can't be counted upon for anything other than the occasional quip or one-liner.
And the fact that the Kung-Fu aspect of the film is treated so horribly will make fans of the genre want to slap the director and/or editor. Jet Li is obviously one of the most famous martial arts stars in the world, and with fellow martial arts star Mark Dacascos in the film as well (he was last seen in the entertaining yet quirky Brotherhood of the Wolf), one would think that some spectacular fight sequences would result from this pairing. Especially since the actors play characters who are on opposite sides. But the time spent on seeing these two masters spar with one another is far too brief. And in a strange case of top-billing, Jet Li received a spot at the top of the marquee for Cradle 2 the Grave and his character was anything but verbal.
This film seems to be an example of a motion picture created in a short span of time so that a studio or producer could cash in on the current popularity of the type of product. But it looks highly ironic that this type of film has steadily dwindled in its box office appeal. In their race to put what's popular on screen, Warner Bros. and the producers of the film seem to have forgotten that even fans of action movies have standards. Just because a film is "mindless" doesn't mean it can't be entertaining. Lame script or no, this film could have existed on good fight sequences alone. But Cradle will not impress action fans. Nor will it garner any attention from those outside its intended demographic.
Review by Kelsey Wyatt.