Directed by: Andrzej Bartkowiak
Starring: Jet Li, DMX, Tom Arnold, Anthony Anderson, Gabrielle Union, Mark Decascos
To enjoy Cradle 2 the Grave, you have to leave your intellect in the theater parking lot. During the turbo-charged 100 minutes of the film, all you can think (if you can think at all with the riveting sights and sounds on the screen) is: Wow, this is one fantastic action movie! So what if it's also preposterous and stupid? Who cares if there's not one socially redeeming moment in the whole thing? (Loving daddy giving little daughter a beautiful stolen diamond necklace doesn't count.) With the best ATV (all-terrain vehicle) escapade ever -- over rooftops, no less -- as well as incredible car chases and stupendous martial arts choreography, Grave is the answer to an action addict's prayers.
The film's true is Polish director Bartkowiak, who mixes enough character and comedy into the big-bucks action sequences to make the whole stew endlessly entertaining. Bartkowiak brought together his pals from his two previous action flicks, Exit Wounds and Romeo Must Die, and wisely allowed them to do what each does best. Thus Jet Li and DMX reprise their high-testosterone personas to powerful visceral effect. And comics Anthony Anderson and Tom Arnold, performing their usual schtick, end up being hilarious.
Jet Li (The One) was China's martial arts world champion several times running. Unlike his fellow countryman Jackie Chan (who fashions himself a comedian), Li prefers the Clint Eastwood spaghetti-Western style of acting. That means he utters few words, wears a blank affect and never looks at women unless he's intending to eliminate them -- and no matter how many times he's smashed, punched, pummeled, kicked, slammed, rolled or dashed at with the jagged edge of a broken wine bottle, he never utters a moan of pain or shows the slightest evidence of a bruise.
Most impressive of all is that every time some moron leaps at Li's character, Su, with a death-dealing chop, he first does nothing but gracefully dodge the blow. Sometimes he doesn't even move his feet! A hapless would-be murderer will be trying to kick Su's face or smack off his head, and Su will just casually -- straight as an arrow, arms resting at his side, feet planted to the center of the earth -- move as if a gentle breeze were nudging him out of harm's way. Totally amazing. Most action-movie fans don't give a hoot about such subtleties, but I wanted to make sure you knew that Grave isn't totally without nuance.
Su is an enigmatic Taiwanese intelligence officer who comes to the U.S. in search of a cache of mysterious black diamonds stolen by master jewel thief Tony Fait (rapper DMX, Exit Wounds) and his expert team (among them, Gabrielle Union from Deliver Us From Evil and a slimmed-down and hyped-up Anthony Anderson from Kangaroo Jack). After many lethal encounters and plot twists, the stones end up in the hands of Ling (Mark Decascos, Instinct to Kill), an evil international crook who happens to be Su's former partner from China, making a final martial arts duel to the death inevitable -- and really worth waiting for.
After Tony's daughter (feisty Paige Hurd) gets kidnapped, he and Su team up to rescue her and retrieve the stones. In so doing, they become the newest bi-racial buddy team; but mercifully, both of them fight more than they talk, so we're spared the usual banal budding-buddy banter. Expanding this theme of male bonding among thieves is Tom Arnold (Exit Wounds) as a manic wheeler-dealer who both complicates the story and proves that fools can be good friends if they can be guaranteed a profit. (Be sure not to miss the comedy riff between Arnold and Anderson over the end credits. It's a hoot.)
When you leave the theater after viewing Grave, you know you haven't taken even one feeble step along the path toward enlightenment -- but you sure did get your money's worth.