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Jet Li is a phenomenal martial artist and extremely versatile actor ... there, I just wanted that out of the way before I talked about his latest venture into celluloid purgatory.  Through his relatively short stint in Tinseltown he has had probably more hits than misses and unfortunately his time was due to climb down the credibility ladder and accept this somewhat banal script.  Even though this movie is meant to be your average 90-minute popcorn special, it makes me wonder why Jet Li decides to go for these productions which offer him little more than a chance to be "rap-cool" on-screen ... still, he pulls this one off with a great amount of presence and hardly any self-pretention that I'm willing to enjoy it for his sake.

Cradle 2 The Grave
Cradle 2 The Grave had the highest calibre of production values afforded for this movie, it's just a shame that the script wasn't part of the costing and resultantly all this great footage just comes all unstuck.  Still, there are many other things going for it like the entertaining stunt sequences (both in the hand-to-hand combat and inevitable car-chases) and the equally welcome comic-relief moments interspersed throughout.  And if you adore rap music that repeats the second most offensive word in the English language every two seconds, then your home theatre system will get a good cleaning out of spiderwebs from all this and the many growling sound effects herein - you just can't go wrong with this one, ayight?

Jet Li's virtual cameo performance in Lethal Weapon 4 cast him atypically as the main bad guy with a soft spot for his criminal bretheren.  This role became so much more than the sum of its parts simply because of his ability to transform between the steely-eyed face of evil to that of heartfelt anguish when someone close to him dies - not many actors are able to pull this off with enough genuinity for us to be totally sympathetic with them.  He has proven himself continually as an actor of incredible charisma and physical talent as exampled by his lead roles in Hero, The One and his credible comeback with Kiss Of The Dragon after the veritable turkey Romeo Must Die - at least things are generally on the way up for him, he just has to come out of this particular journey relatively unscathed (in terms of his reputation).

Cradle 2 The Grave
Movie
A gang of professional thieves headed by Fait (DMX) enlists the help of his long-time partners in crime Daria (Gabrielle Union, Bad Boys II), Tommy (Anthony Anderson, Kangaroo Jack) and Miles (Drag-On, Exit Wounds) to execute their latest heist of a cache of assorted diamonds, including the mysterious variety known only as the Black Stones.  However, Su (Jet Li) is on their trail as he too is after these precious jewels, although he knows that they are not what they appear to be.  Su is here to ensure that they don't end up in the hands of a dangerous criminal mastermind named Ling (Mark Dascoscas, Drive) and his right-hand girl Sona (Kelly Hu, Martial Law).

After Fait works out that everyone is after his stash, he enlists the help of pawn-king Archie (Tom Arnold, True Lies) to discover what is so special about these Black Stones.  And just before you can say "Chinese Take-Away", Fait is pursued by the persistent Su, Archie is approached by Ling's henchmen for the stones which inexplicably end up in the hands of Fait's arch-nemesis Jump Chambers (Chi McBride, The Frighteners) and eventually Fait's daughter is kidnapped by Ling in order to retrieve the stones.  As is always the case, the heroes will end up saving the day with the most unlikely of rescue missions ever seen as well as the end fight between Su and Ling that just screams out Romeo Must Die: The Sequel.

Cradle 2 The Grave
It isn't so much the script in its entirety that is the problem here as just sections of it with the many logic flaws making it end up feeling like a really bad 1980s movie ... the high-security storage facility situated atop a service corridor with just a plate-metal floor separating them; the radio & cellphone transmissions from this same area; the incredibly tacky "I Love You Daddy" scenes; the even more hokey and very badly dressed weapons-traders; the demonstration of these supposedly powerful Black Stones via a really pretty laser-light show; the crappy bidding war between these people in which the final price is a tenth that of the regular diamonds (so what's the point then?) ... and that's just for starters.

If it wasn't for these simple oversights I would have accepted more of this film's attempt at credibility, but in the end it just made me barf uncontrollably.  I know that these kinds of movies are simply showcases for the skills of everyone infront of and behind the camera though surely a little bit more time and money could have been spent on a decent scriptwriter to make the whole effort worthwhile.

A couple of other points to make here are that Anthony Anderson had met up with Jet Li beforehand in Romeo Must Die.  Also, the underappreciated Mark Dascoscas was selected by many Net-surfers to Jet Li's official website when asked who they would like to see him fight in his next movie.  And then finally ... what the heck does the film title have to do with this movie anyway?

Video
Can you believe it?  Another stellar transfer for a movie with about as much depth as an empty bathtub. The quality of this image is for the most part striking in its clarity, apart from a couple of instances with the obvious rear-projection subway sequence from Speed as well as a couple of transitional shots that almost look like they were taken from stock footage elsewhere.  Colours are as vibrant and fully saturated as you'd want to get in any film with the black levels and shadow detail coming in just as strongly even in all the night time sequences.  Grain is virtually non-existent except for the two faulty points mentioned earlier.  Film and digital artifacts are about as rare as classical music in this film.

Audio
If you've ever wanted your Porsche, 4WD or Quadbike to sound their gruntiest, you've picked the right DVD for the job.  Right away you will notice your subwoofer happily bopping away to all the hip hop music that floods this movie's soundtrack as well as the very meaty support for the various action set-pieces and vehicle pass-by's that occur regularly.

Cradle 2 The Grave
Dialogue is loud enough to be heard above the din but I had to refer to the subtitles when certain passages flew past me without total intelligibility - this isn't the fault of the recording so much as the ennounciations of nearly all the characters (including the antics of Tom Arnold).  Surround channel usage is given the five-star treatment with the all-important ambient and directional sound placements helping to involve us in the action.  Again, the subwoofer is used almost to the point of overuse where the many scenes that don't really require such a heavy back-end (like the body thumps and even the number of phones that DMX throws to the floor) is given every opportunity to sing here.

Extras
For your average "Joel Silver DVD Special", this DVD has the least amount of supplemental material available from their catalogue of titles ever (15 minutes at most), although I doubt there is much that can really be said about this film's merits in cinematic history.

There are two featurettes in the text menus (and two others as easter eggs).  The first one entitled Ultimate Fighting Champions (8 mins) looks quite promising at first as a behind-the-scenes foray into the development of the Underground Bloodsport action sequence but ultimately is just a series of on-set discussions with Jet Li, Joel Silver and the real-life professional fighters.  The Descender Rig (3 mins) is much more interesting as we find out how the character of Su drops from one floor to the next of a multi-storey building.  The easter egg featurettes are of a quick trivia video clip about the boxing sequence and a welcome insight into the tried-and-true method of rear-screen projection.

The Music Video by DMX (4 mins) has to be one of the cheapest productions I've ever seen for a video clip and the song itself is much less inspiring in my mind.  The Cast & Crew one-page listing holds even less hope for something substantial in its creation and finally there is the Theatrical Trailer.

Cradle 2 The Grave
Summary
Is there anyone out there in Hollywood that would like to give Jet Li a real chance to shine on film?  If so, contact his agent because I'm sure he is aching for a part that will ultimately define him as a master of all his crafts, rather than appearing as just another jack-of-all-trades instead (but I'm guessing that Hero is his ultimate signature film for now).  Now I don't have anything against the current trend of hip-cool black actors in films, heck I'm still a fan of the enduring Bad Boys movie (and I hope the sequel is just as good), but Jet Li needs to scrutinise his projects more carefully as the current shift by actors like Steven Seagal towards looking "hip with his homies" is something that I doubt will pay off in the long run.

If you are unconcerned about the potential nose-dive that this movie might take with its actors, then I'm sure you won't mind having this DVD handy when you want to relive some of the magic moments that have already been established in films such as Speed, True Lies or Romeo Must Die.  Just as an added treat for the avid movie-buff, watch the entire end credits sequence with Archie and Tommy as they discuss who will play all the character parts if their story ever becomes a movie (a joke within a joke, which probably is the most insightful part of this entire film after all that's said and done).


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