Action movies tend to have a standard recipe: mix one part ruthless villain who will stop at nothing, to one part hero who will give his life for the cause, add a tablespoon of trusted corhorts, plus a dash of sexy girl, and a liberal sprinkling of over the top action and stunts. These elements were once unique and ground breaking but now seem COTS, which causes the story and acting suffer. This describes this latest Jet Li action/thriller Cradle 2 The Grave, co-starring rapper DMX. The story seems like it was written mad-lib style, but if you ignore that one tidbit, you'll find the movie truly entertaining. Like The Scorpion King, you can't take this movie too seriously.
Our story takes place at a diamond exchange in downtown Los Angeles, where a major daytime heist is going down. Fait (DMX) and his band of bandits (Gabrielle Union & Anthony Anderson) are the assailants looking for some rare black diamonds (which look more like onyx to me, however, I digress). Their intricate and successful score is interrupted by phone call from a mysterious stranger who says he's on to them, so they bug out. In comes detective Su, a Taiwanese agent who has an interest in these black stones, but he isn't the only one. Ling (Mark Decascos) and his dragon-lady partner Sona (Kelly Hu) are also after the rocks, but for a more nefarious plan. Well, they eventually get them, and Fait's daughter (Paige Hurd), which sets the movie in motion. Naturally rivals Fait and Su team up to get what's theirs back.
Cradle 2 The Grave has some wonderful stunts and martial arts action, as you would expect in a Jet Li film. I particularly enjoyed the action between Jet Li and Mark Decascos (Brotherhood of the Wolf), even if it was interrupted by other simultaneous battles. There is an incredible ATV roof-type escape/chase involving DMX and the LAPD. Although it went on for about 20 seconds too long, it's spectacular to watch. Hu and Union have a karate-style cat fight, which I am sure the guys will appreciate more than the ladies, but fun to watch regardless of penile status. Oh yeah, we get to see Union doing a bootylicious strip tease and Hu wearing some form fitting (read: skin ass tight) outfits as well. To his credit however, director Andrzej Bartkowiak doesn't try to imitate the Matrix in his action sequences. I think though, the best use of comic relief that we've seen in a movie in a while was the use of Anthony Anderson (Barbershop, Kangaroo Jack) and Tom Arnold, who plays the token white guy. They are both hilarious in this film.
The director does well building tension and getting the blood pumping; he keeps things going. The most notable sequence is where Jet Li is kickboxing guys 3 times his size in a steel-cage crossed with the ATV scene. Here is where rising action starts to build up to your predictable ending of punches and explosions. The acting isn't first rate, but that should never be the reason to see any action movie, especially this one. Other than Arnold and Anderson (who were probably just being themselves) no one really came off naturally here except Chi McBride (the principal on Fox's Boston Public), who has a key supporting role in the movie. Hu comes off well as an Oriental vamp, but it's more looks and attitude. It is obvious the other cast members were signed solely for their looks or martial arts ability.
Yes, my porno philosophy applies here: (Good action and hot chicks, but you have to sit through the ridiculous story and dialogue to get to it). However, the music here is better. The movie open with a powerful and angry Eminem/DMX collaboration, and of course has the song 'X gonna give it 2 ya' that we hear on the trailer. If you see this movie expecting more than some good action, you'll be saddened. However, if you are looking for a movie with force and motion, Cradle 2 The Grave rocks.
Grade: A- for action, C- for story, D+ for acting
Czarina's Caustic Comment or Captious Compliment: This movie has something for everyone.
Cradle 2 The Czarina
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