a critiQal film review Cradle 2 the Grave (2003)

Plot: Falt (DMX), Tommy (Anderson), Daria (Union) and Miles (Drag-On) get more than they bargained for when they steal some black diamonds. After the theft, Falt gets besieged by people wanting the diamonds, including a Taiwan special forces cop, Su (Li). Turns out the diamonds are a little more than meets the eye, and international killer Ling (Dacascos) will stop at nothing to get them - including kidnapping Falt’s little girl.

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  • ...Jet Li brings along DMX and Gabrielle Union in this decent action flick.

It seems Lethal Weapon 4 (1998) was just the starting point for action hero Jet Li here in the states. Long a superstar overseas, Jet Li has exploded onto the American movie scene these past years…and actually come up with a couple of decent flicks. After his turns in Romeo Must Die (2000), Kiss of the Dragon (2001) and The One, I thought his career was just going to keep going up…until Cradle 2 the Grave.

Cradle 2 The Grave came out without too much fanfare. Sure, there were a couple of commercials on the TV, but it seemed to fly through the theaters. Since I blinked and missed it’s run on the big screen, I knew I’d have to wait until it hit DVD to see if Jet Li had started coming down from his movie star high. Today, the wait was over, and I popped in the DVD (with a little trepidation), and sat down to see another decent flick.

DMX was surprisingly decent. He expands on his acting each film, and he really seems to enjoy being on the big screen. True, he’s not a terrific actor, but he’s a lot better than most of the rappers on the big screen these days. He at least seems to put some effort into his acting, and not just limp through the film, dragging the audience along a bit unwillingly.

Jet Li, as usual, brings his quiet persona to Cradle 2 the Grave, and lets his hands do most of his bragging for him. He’s amazingly fast, and just a thrill to watch in action scenes, since he makes it look so easy. He came off a little too aloof in the beginning of this film, which is unlike him, and it spoiled the plot line later on a bit when he did start getting more involved, but nobody’s perfect. Besides, it helped build tension, because you knew if his fight scenes now were this easy, something spectacular was coming up later.

Gabrielle Union, of Bring It On (2000) and Bad Boys II (2003), got to show a more action-packed side of herself in this film, even taking on bad girl Kelly Hu later on in the film. Fun to watch, and it will be interesting to see which way her career goes in the future.

Kelly Hu and Mark Dacascos didn’t really seem to contribute much to the movie, and that’s largely where the movie falls short. You have to have an entertaining villain to make the movie exciting. Look at Joker in Batman (1989), for example. If it had been anyone else except Jack Nicholson, do you really think there would be 4 by this point (with rumors of more to come)? Or 2 sequels to The Silence of the Lambs (1991) without Anthony Hopkins’ chilling Hannibal Lechter? I think not. We come to see the hero…and stay for the villains.

Just using them as the reason Jet Li and DMX team up just isn’t enough. Sure, they’re bad, they kidnapped a little girl. That’s been used so much by this point it’s a cliche. Be creative with your villains…don’t let them just become punching bags for the good guys! It’s not as thrilling that way.

The special effects were, as usual for a Jet Li film, pretty good. He’s amazing to watch, and it seems they are just creating bigger and bigger fight scenes, just to make him break a sweat. He’s already battled an entire police training class (Kiss of the Dragon (2001)), fought in a ring of fire to the death, without the use of his hands ()…Heck, he’s even fought himself (The One)! How do you top those? I’m not sure, but they give it a good try here.

If not for the lackadaisical performances of it’s villains, Cradle 2 The Grave could have been one of Jet Li’s better films. As it is, though, it falls a bit short, and becomes just another decent action flick. It’s still fun to watch Jet Li kick some butt, and DMX is bringing his movie career along nicely, and true, Gabrielle Union deserved some butt-kicking time on-screen as well.

Okay, so it’s not a perfect film. It’s still a good way to enjoy a couple of hours. Over and over though? That I’m not sure about.

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