NOW PLAYING: Cradle 2 the Grave

Posted: Monday, March 03, 2003

There are good movies, there are bad movies, and then there are movies like Cradle 2 the Grave, which I classify as inconsequential; movies no one will be talking about two weeks after their release, and next year no one will even remember them coming out. All I can think about is the enormous amount of money, millions of dollars, spent on an endeavor that will change no one, affect nothing, and will vanish shortly after it appears.

Cradle 2 the Grave is also a bad movie, which means, I guess, that it spans categories. DMX, a rapper that I constantly associate with the bike I had in junior high, plays a jewel thief with a heart of gold. The movie opens with our hero and his team pulling off a spectacular heist, raiding a room full of diamond-laden safety deposit boxes. Rather than fool around with pesky character development or moral ambiguity, the writers take no chances that their characters will be liked by the audience. "Who does all this stuff belong to?" asks one jewel thief to the other. "Oh, just drug dealers." I began to hate them immediately. Now, just in case you weren't swayed by the drug dealer line, the writers go further. The thieves have a "no gun" policy. Wouldn't want anyone to get hurt when committing grand larceny. DMX has a nice home, with lots of nice things, regular people things, and a maid, who he is very polite to. He also has an eight-year-old daughter, the sweetest little girl you could imagine, and they say their prayers together every night. And as an extra-special bonus, our hero gives his little princess a beautiful diamond necklace, one of the very pieces he liberated from those bad 'ol drug dealers. Heck, these guys aren't criminals; they deserve a medal.

Aside from being a movie about how nice jewel thieves can be, this is also a kung fu flick. Enter Jet Li, as a shadowy government agent from Taiwan who has a special interest in a collection of black diamonds that have recently been stolen. You can see where this is going, right? Wrong! Because it turns out that Jet Li is really a good guy too, trying to save the world from total annihilation, and there are these other Chinese guys that are the real bad guys. What a twist, huh? There are some black bad guys, too, and it's a good thing, because it creates a ready adversary for DMX. And if that weren't enough, there're two girls, one good and one bad, so the ending can have it's requisite chick battle.

Jet Li is an amazingly talented martial artist. He's like Jackie Chan, without the goofiness. There are a few fight scenes in this film that transcend the crap that surround them, and emerge as actually enjoyable. There is one scene where he unwittingly is entered into an underground bare fist boxing cage match (the set-up isn't important and, as it involves Tom Arnold, is pretty painful to watch) and ends up fighting something like twenty guys, all by himself. It was pretty cool, I have to admit. The other thing to remember about Jet Li is that he is a passable actor. He is a huge star in China, and has quite a following in the United States. Why he is taking roles like this, and passing on a possible role in The Matrix series, I will never understand. If he's not careful, he's going to end up like Steven Seagal in straight-to-video hell.

DMX, on the other hand, is not a passable actor. He is a rap star, and as rap stars tend to do, he seems to think that his success with in-your-face rhymes automatically translates into success with in-your-face action movies. Some rappers are good actors. Ice Cube, Ice-T, and Snoop Dogg have all parlayed their musical careers into critical and fiscal acclaim at the box office. But whatever it is that those three guys have, DMX doesn't. He's all attitude and no honesty. I felt like I was watching one of his videos. The scenes where he was supposed to be emotional, concerned for the safety of his daughter, are painful at best. The other members of the cast are typical action supporting players, neither incredibly bad nor entirely memorable, except for the irritating Tom Arnold who is both incredibly bad and, sadly, memorable. This is basically the same role he played in True Lies several years ago, although I don't think he employs a whole lot of variation.

Cradle 2 the Grave has one final insult, and that is the title. Not only does it make no sense whatsoever in the film, but there is that pesky "2" in place of the word "to." Do they assume their audience can't read, or are they trying to make the film title sound like a rap album title? I'm actually a little surprised they didn't replace "the" with the ever popular "tha." Insulting or not, however, Cradle has one positive thing going for it. In a month, I won't even remember I went. Grade: D+

Cradle 2 the Grave is rated R for violence and language.

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