Was there any doubt that, at one point or another, a black character in “Cradle 2 the Grave” would utter the line: “Now that’s what I’m talking about!” The line is usually reserved for the Black Sidekick during the climactic battle, but “Cradle” surprised me by having DMX’s character utter it very early on. This little tidbit, incidentally, is the only thing about “Cradle 2 the Grave” that “surprised” me.
Built from a foundation of cliché only possible in a movie by Andrzej Bartkowiak, “Cradle 2 the Grave” is yet another film melding hip hop with kung fu aimed at the urban market (or is often the case, young white suburban kids with delusions of being “ghetto”). Long-time cinematographer-turned-director Bartkowiak (whose name is a pain in the ass to write each time) has been one of the few mainstays of the genre, having directed two previous Urban Hip Hop Action movies, “Romeo Must Die” and “Exit Wounds”.
The trend for a Urban Hip Hop Action movie is simple: team a named rapper with an established action star, cover the whole thing in loud but innocuous rap songs, and add dashes of urban slang into the mix. Also, the budget has to be relatively high, since the action sequences have to be very over the top in order to compensate for the lousy acting by the newbie rapper and, as is often the case, the inexperienced director. The visuals will be slick and loud, with a lot of style but very little else. And do I have to mention that the screenplay is irrelevant?
“Cradle 2 the Grave” teams action star Jet Li (“Kiss of the Dragon”) with rapper DMX (“Belly”) as a Taiwanese secret agent and a jewel thief, respectively. The “plot” revolves around some black diamonds stolen by DMX’s crew, which includes his girlfriend Daria (Gabrielle Union), funnyman Tommy (Anthony Anderson, who is a staple of Bartkowiak movies), and the inexperience youngster Miles (Drag-On). I think.
Hired to steal the black diamonds, DMX soon realizes that the diamonds’ real owners, a bad guy name Ling (Mark Dacascos), will do anything to get them back, including abducting DMX’s daughter. DMX must team up with Li, who has a history with Ling, in order to retrieve the diamonds (which were stolen by someone else), and save DMX’s daughter. Before all is said and done, there are a lot of stunts and Jet Li gets to kick a lot of ass and look cool. Kelly Hu (“The Scorpion King”) also shows up as Dacascos’ right-hand, er, woman, but she’s criminally underused, as is Dacascos (“Drive”).
As an actor, DMX ranks somewhere between Ja Rule (“Half Past Dead”) and LL Cool J (“Rollerball”). He’s not so bad that he’s embarrassing, and if anything, he’s actually grown as an actor, even though his line delivery still reeks of inexperience and, I’m sorry to say, a general lack of talent for the craft. Then again, at least he’s not as bad as Ja Rule, who has zero talent. As long as Urban Hip Hop Action Films are still “in”, rappers like DMX will continue to get work, which may be a good or a bad thing, depending on your taste in movies.
The funniest thing about “Cradle” is just how uninterested the screenplay is about exploring Jet Li’s Su character. Besides the improbable name (Come on, “Su Duncan”? Give me a break.), Su has almost zero background. He shows up, kicks ass, and disappears for long stretches. Even when he shows up, Su is more of a sidekick to DMX, which is unfortunate because DMX looks wholly inadequate next to the cool as ice Su. And yes, if you were wondering, Jet Li’s English is getting much better. But then again, even his bad English is better than my non-existent Chinese, so there you go.
“Cradle 2 the Grave” is a formulaic action film with some nice action sequences but nothing more. If that’s okay with you, then the movie will satisfy. If not, then obviously renting the film is entirely your fault, because you can’t possibly think you were getting anything other than what you will be getting.
Andrzej Bartkowiak (director) / John O’Brien, Channing Gibson (screenplay)
CAST: Jet Li …. Su Duncan
DMX …. Tony Fait
Anthony Anderson …. Tommy
Kelly Hu …. Sona
Tom Arnold …. Archie
Mark Dacascos …. Ling