Have you ever hear of black diamonds? Neither have I. Neither have the characters in this film, apparently. However, this doesn’t stop them from trying to steal a bag of them from an international diamond exchange.
DMX plays Fait, the leader of a team of sort of hi-tech burglars. Their latest heist (which includes stealing the mysterious black diamonds) is undermined when a Taiwanese law enforcement agent named Su (Jet Li) beats the holy snot out of their client and tries to steal the stones for himself. When Fait tries to move the stones on the black market through Archie (Tom Arnold), a friend who uses his pawnshop front to deal in everything from illegal weapons to hot cars, they are snatched by a local crime syndicate.
Fait and his buddies must now deal with Ling, the real owner of the black diamonds. Oh, and did I mention that Ling is a psychopath that makes Saddam Hussein look like the guy from “Blues Clues”? As an insurance policy, Ling kidnaps Fait’s daughter and uses his team as pawns to bring him the stones. Predictably, Su joins forces with the thieves to get the stones – and Fait’s daughter – back.
Don’t let the funky hip-hop name fool you into thinking it is a hard urban drama like Menace II Society. Quite simply, it is a buddy action film. It does a fine job of mixing the violence of the American streets with the Hong Kong fighting style that has made Jet Li famous.
The biggest strength of “Cradle 2 the Grave” is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Just when you start to shift uncomfortably in your seat, expecting the film to take a more meaningful tone, you’re yanked into a new action sequence. This is a good thing, mind you, because the acting and the plot aren’t the reasons to see this film.
The action in “Cradle 2 the Grave” is slick and quite impressive for the film’s modest $25 million budget. It’s nice to see that there still are people in this industry that can make a cool film without busting the bank. Ultimately, this is how Andrzej Bartkowiak (who also helmed Romeo Must Die and Exit Wounds) keeps filling director shoes instead of crawling back to his original job of director of photography (which is what he was doing when he met Jet Li on Lethal Weapon 4).
If only other megalomaniacal cinematographers-turned-directors like Barry Sonnefeld (whose lavish and inexcusably expensive Wild Wild West and Men In Black II failed to meet expectations specifically because of their astronomical and unnecessary budgets) would follow his lead. Another pitfall that Bartkowiak avoids is not ripping off other action films too much (which is more than I can say for many Matrix-emulating directors like McG). Bartkowiak treats the audience to several unique action sequences, including the first on-screen ATV chase through the streets of L.A.
Neither DMX nor Jet Li, who lead the bill on this movie, do much of an acting job, but you really shouldn’t expect much going into the theater for this film. This is a high-velocity action flick that delivers the action every step of the way.
Of course, most of America remembers Jet Li as the Hong Kong kid that blasted into the scene on Lethal Weapon 4 to kick the crap out of Mel Gibson. The second-biggest action star in the world, Li went on to make a series of foreign and American action films. It’s hard to believe he’s almost 40. With his baby face and super fast moves, Li is on his way to be Hollywood’s next Jackie Chan (without the tongue-in-cheek humor, of course).
Anthony Anderson plays a similar character than he did in the dreadful Kangaroo Jack, but miraculously comes out funny this time. Still, the best part of the film is Tom Arnold, playing one of the funniest sidekick roles since “True Lies.” As the end credits roll, sit back and enjoy some of the most hilarious improv by Arnold and Anderson as they poke fun of the film, the director and themselves.
And any analysis of this film would not be complete without a moment of awe given to Gabrielle Union, who is quite simply one of the most beautiful women on the big screen in recent years. There are few things that can top the kung-fu catfight at the end of the film between Union and The Scorpion King beauty Kelly Hu! Hubba, hubba! This is worth the price of admission alone!