Cradle 2 The Grave is the third and, one hopes, final
of the hip-hop chop-socky movie collaborations of producer
Joel Silver and director Andrzej Bartkowiak.
In the beginning it must have seemed like a novel idea. Take
two genres that independently lack box-office pull and fuse
them. The money-making formula must have worked because they
kept making movies, but after this third movie the formula
may be ready for retirement.
Cradle 2 The Grave just retraces the steps of Romeo
Must Die and Exit Wounds, neither of which were
all that good to begin with. Jet Li and DMX
are the good guys grudgingly forced to team up against the
evil Mark Dacascos, Anthony Anderson, and Tom
Arnold, providing the comic relief, and Gabrielle Union
and Kelly Hu, providing the look-good. These one-dimensional
characters are so interchangeable that their individual names
are instantly forgotten. These memory lapses will help when
ignoring the film’s ludicrous story. The less attention paid
during plot exposition the better. The entire film feels like
was plotted out by flow chart. The story merely offers contrived
excuses for one set piece after another, each more preposterous
than the last.
All these sins could easily be forgiven by intense action
sequences or, as a last resort, gratuitous nudity. The writer/director
team tries to come through, but fails to deliver on even the
most basic ingredients. At his best when Jet Li fights, he
puts the art in martial arts. He effortlessly glides across
the screen, a picture-perfect image of deadly grace, while
using his hands and feet as lethal weapons. Watching this
movie it’s evident that Jet Li has lost none of his edge.
But the director didn’t have enough faith in his star to simply
show the fights. Just like the obligatory Gabrielle Union
striptease whenever the action starts to get really interesting,
Andrzej Bartkowiak cuts away to show… DMX?! DMX is tall,
dark, and yeah handsome, but his kung fu is a total joke.
Both Jet Li and DMX have limited acting ranges, each being
capable of only one facial expression. This is fine for Li:
He’s here for action not acting. But then that begs the question,
if DMX is not here for acting or action why is he here?
Cradle 2 The Grave does have a silver lining. Jet
Li gets to step into the octagonal ring with Tito Ortiz
and other Ultimate Fighting Championship fighters. The two
beautiful babes, Gabrielle Union and Kelly Hu, get to slug
it out and really that’s about it. Even this sliver of silver
has a touch of gray. Those sequences were marred by poor editing
and unoriginal choreography respectively. In an attempt to
recapture the humor of Exit Wounds, Tom Arnold and
Anthony Anderson once again banter on during the closing credits,
but this time it feels forced, full of self-referential jokes
providing yet another sign that the formula has worn thin.
Jet Li is the best when it comes to old school beat-down
kung fu and he deserves better than to be pigeonholed in this
derivative trash directed by a man who can’t fully appreciate
Li’s talent. Cradle 2 The Grave does not offer a single
compelling reason for anyone to pay to see it; at least not
while Fist Of Legend is readily available on DVD.