A 'Grave' mistake


What can be said about a movie in which Tom Arnold is responsible for most of the highlights?

Cradle 2 the Grave is a violent, dumb, offensive mess, a train wreck that stitches together one adrenaline-gushing action sequence after another in ways having nothing to do with logic or common sense and everything to do with a director who knows only one rule: Keep it moving.

It's also shamelessly formulaic, without an actor or even a thought that wasn't chosen on the basis of some demographic study. Take one of those rapper types oozing plenty of gangsta attitude (DMX), pair him with a way-cool Asian martial-arts dude (an increasingly desperate Jet Li), surround them with fabulous babes (Gabrielle Union and Kelly Hu), throw in a salt-and-pepper comic-relief duo (Anthony Anderson and Arnold, both quite funny) and make sure there's lots of high-speed hurtling involved and that everything blows up in the end.

And for good measure, make the title cutting-edge cool by using the number "2" in it instead of the word "to." Kids love that stuff.

Voila! Instant action pic, guaranteed to bring in good crowds the first weekend and maybe leave them so numb that they won't have enough brain capacity left to warn everyone else away.

DMX plays a high-tech criminal mastermind who opens the picture pulling off a major jewel heist using a missile launcher to blow open a safe (cool!). Yeah, he breaks the law a lot and doesn't worry much about ancillary damage to innocent people, but he's an OK guy because: 1) He only takes money that would otherwise go to drug pushers and other real nasties (he tells us this, in case anyone's worried about his moral underpinnings); 2) he doesn't let any of his fellow jewel heisters carry guns; and 3) he really loves his little daughter.

Painting this guy as a hero for the ages is where this movie gets offensive; the rest of the time, it's simply dumb.

Jet Li, who's a marvel to watch when he's doing anything that doesn't involve acting, is a mysterious agent of some Asian police force (it really doesn't matter which) who specializes in kicking bad guys while keeping one hand in his pocket. He's after the DMX character because among the jewels he's pocketed are some shiny black stones that must have some serious black-market value. We know that because there's another Asian, this one a ruthless bad guy (Mark Dacascos) who'll stop at nothing to get them.

To get the stones, the really bad guy kidnaps the moral bad guy's daughter. This unites the moral bad guy and the cool Asian guy, who, it turns out, is also a daddy worried about his little girl.

In the course of the movie's 100 minutes, director Andrzej Bartkowiak throws everything at the screen except the kitchen sink, and I'm not sure I didn't see a couple of those fly by. We get to watch an ATV race through the streets (and up the stairways) of Los Angeles; we get to watch a bare-knuckle, steel-cage boxing brawl involving lots of mean-looking types trying to get the better of Jet Li and his stunt double; we get to watch a gaggle of international arms dealers, straight out of central casting, act like spoiled dilettantes at a fine-art auction; and we get to watch what happens when a guy swallows high-grade plutonium, or something like it (awesome cool!).

Oh yeah, and we get to see the fine-looking Gabrielle Union in a thong.

Like I said, Bartkowiak knows all about keeping things moving; there's a definite helter-skelter elegance to the mayhem. As for plot and character, those he doesn't know much about. For any who relish this sort of stuff, you know what you're getting yourself into.

Cradle 2 the Grave

Starring Jet Li, DMX, Gabrielle Union

Directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak

Released by Warner Bros.

Rated R (Violence, language, sexual content)

Time 100 minutes SUN SCORE * 1/2

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