Cradle 2 the Grave (2003) / Action-Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for violence, language and some sexual content
Running Time: 101 min.

Cast: DMX, Jet Li, Mark Dacascos, Gabrielle Union, Anthony Anderson, Kelly Hu, Tom Arnold, Michael Jace, Drag-On, Paige Hurd, Chi McBride
Director: Andrzej Bartkowiak

Screenplay: John O'Brien, Channing Gibson
Review published June 20, 2004

Cradle 2 the Grave marks the third hip hop kung fu gangta flick from Polish cinematographer Bartkowiak (Romeo Must Die and Exit Wounds being the other two), and the result isn't bad, it's just more of the same.  Cradle is an easy review.  If you liked Romeo and Exit Wounds, you'll like this one.  If you didn't, you won't.  However, for those who are interested who haven't seen them, I shall nevertheless continue.

Rapper DMX (who also starred in both of Bartkowiak's previous two films) stars as Fait, the leader of a crew of high-tech thieves who sees his whole world implode when he knocks over a bank only to stumble across some black diamonds.  A Taiwanese police officer named Su (Jet Li, Lethal Weapon 4) is hot on their tails to get the precious stones, but finds he must work with the gang to find them once they are stolen.  Dacascos (Brotherhood of the Wolf) is the main bad guy, a ruthless killer and underground entrepreneur who will do anything to get his hands on the black diamonds, and when Fait can't produce, he kidnaps his daughter to exchange her life.

The worst aspect of Cradle 2 the Grave, and the one thing that would keep this film from being good no matter who directed or starred in it, comes from the terrible plot as designed by John O'Brien (Starsky & Hutch).  I won't spoil the film except to say that there is a reason everyone wants the black diamonds, despite their beauty, and once this element is revealed, all plausibility is quickly jettisoned. 

Not that anyone really watches a film like Cradle 2 the Grave for the plot anyway.  It's the action they  seek, and action they get.  Jet Li is a marvel at action scenes, quick and acrobatic.  When he decides to fight, it's breathtaking to behold, so much so that it's easy to forgive his bland acting and inability to emote.  Dacascos is also good match to go up against him, and a better actor, and the confrontation between the two is nicely choreographed by veteran Corey Yuen (X-Men, The Transporter).  Like many martial arts laden films, Cradle makes everyone a kung fu specialist, such that DMX and uber-hottie Gabrielle Union (Bring It On, Deliver Us from Eva) sport some moves of their own.

Bartkowiak continues his tradition of employing a good deal of comic relief in his movies, with Tom Arnold (True Lies, Nine Months) and Anthony Anderson (Barbershop, Kangaroo Jack) providing most of the laughs.  While I generally don't consider either one of them amusing enough to watch for long, as bit players, they deliver some welcome levity, especially in a very funny bit during the closing credits (stick around for them).

Cradle 2 the Grave isn't a good film for anyone who doesn't consider themselves a hardcore action fan, so unless you watch testosterone-charged, mindless action vehicles of all varieties, you probably won't get enough out of this to stick with it.  Bartkowiak continues to deliver slick-looking, well-edited fight flicks with flair, leading you to believe that he is only a good script away from becoming a legitimate force to be reckoned with as an action director.  A diamond in the rough, as the saying appropriately goes.

Qwipster's rating:

2004 Vince Leo