Cradle 2 The Grave
Grave misconception
By Rachel Deahl

Don't mess with my levels J-Li, nahmean, nahmsayin'!

Jet Li is an international star who has been in search of an American star vehicle; unfortunately he's still waiting on a decent script. Like Jackie Chan and Chow Yun Fat, who have both crossed over from the Asian film scene to find success (to largely different degrees) in American films, Li brings to the screen a remarkable and singular fighting style and screen presence. But, unlike his contemporaries, Li has something else, a quiet power that sets him apart, a quality which is writ large in his latest effort, Cradle 2 the Grave. Unfortunately, like so many of the poorly-crafted action movies he's made in America, this film relies too heavily on explosions and lengthy car chases instead of its diminutive Chinese lead.

Making his American debut in the flashy flop Lethal Weapon 4, Li has gone on to star in a string of bombs. The first of those, Romeo Must Die, was orchestrated by the moneyman behind the Lethal Weapon series, Joel Silver. Touted by the producer as a hip-hop version of The Matrix, Romeo Must Die was more like West Side Story on speedwith more blood and more explosions. After delivering another flop at the box office with The One, Li has reunited with Silver for Cradle 2 the Grave, in what would seem to be the producer's dramatic, hip-hop version of Rush Hour.

Like Li's other disappointing ventures with Silver, Cradle is high on poorly-executed action sequences and low on carefully orchestrated stunts and fight scenes. In other words, there's an exhaustive display of people routinely getting their ass kicked and a lot of things blowing up in the background.

Paired with rapper DMX, who plays a high-end thief named Tony Fait, Li co-stars as a Taiwanese government agent, named Su, who comes to town to get his hands on some jewels Tony and his crew have inadvertently stolen in their latest heist. Of course Tony's bad luck is that those black diamonds he thought he lifted are actually small plutonium capsules that will revolutionize atomic weaponry. (Don't you just hate it when that happens?) And, since those little suckers are worth hefty sums (the arms dealers are ready to pay top dollar), there's also an evil, young businessman/vigilante who's eager to get control of the mysterious loot. The Dr. Evil of the picture, Ling (Mark Dacascos), kidnaps Tony's daughter in order to get those all-important diamonds. Forced to pair up with the foreign cop so he can get his daughter back, Tony and Su set off to find the loot (which has been stolen from them by a fourth party) and set all right with the world in the process.

From DMX's catchy title song, "X Gon' Give it to You" to the logical pairing of street fighting with kung fu, the concept behind Cradle 2 the Grave isn't a bad one. And, in general, Silver and other moviemakers are correct to assume that martial arts and hip-hop blend nicely. That said, Silver's latest project fails in its execution. With too little Li and too much DMX, the film would have been much better served if each player could have been allowed to stick to what they do best, with Li fighting and DMX singing. The shoddy script and idiotic plotline (the auction among the world's top arms dealers for the plutonium capsules is particularly laughable) only fuel the fire.

But, in that final showdown between Li and Dacascos which takes place in a ring of fire complete with the sprinkler system raining down, there is a giddy sense that if this martial artist ever does get a decent U.S. film to helm, it will more than make up for his transgressions with Mr. Silver.