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Cradle 2 The Grave (R)
Warner Brothers
Official Site
Director: Andrzej Bartkowiak
Producer: Joel Silver
Written by: Channing Gibson, John O’Brien
Cast: Jet Li, DMX, Mark Dacascos, Anthony Anderson, Gabrielle Union, Kelly Hu, Tom Arnold

Rating: out of 5

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.

—Woodrow Bogucki


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