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Cradle 2 the Grave(2003)
When his daughter is kidnapped and held in exchange for priceless diamonds, the leader of a crew of highly skilled urban thieves forges an unlikely alliance with a Taiwanese Intelligence officer to rescue her. Their race against the clock to find the precious stones ultimately unravels a plot to distribute a deadly new weapon of war.
For more about Cradle 2 the Grave and the Cradle 2 the Grave Blu-ray release, see Cradle 2 the Grave Blu-ray Review published by Brian Orndorf on August 29, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Jet Li, DMX, Anthony Anderson, Kelly Hu, Mark Dacascos, Tom Arnold
Director: Andrzej Bartkowiak
» See full cast & crew
Cradle 2 the Grave Blu-ray Review
And the Oscar goes to...
Reviewed by Brian Orndorf, August 29, 2012
In the late 1990s, Hollywood wanted to make rapper DMX a movie star. It's not an uncommon practice to turn someone known exclusively for their musical achievements into an actor, yet with DMX, the effort seemed hopelessly misguided. Stiff and unconvincing, the hip-hop artist never carried himself with ease on screen, yet he still managed to bark out a minor filmography. A large chunk of his employment was courtesy of producer Joel Silver, who brought DMX in to flavor 2000's "Romeo Must Die" and co-star alongside Steven Seagal in 2001's "Exit Wounds." Sensing screen magic, Silver reunited DMX with "Romeo" star Jet Li for 2003's "Cradle 2 the Grave," an actioner meant to pay off the fumes of chemistry shared earlier by the performers, gifting them their own playground of martial arts activity, explosions, and gunplay, with a booming soundtrack to score the chaos. While eager to please, "Cradle 2 the Grave" (a bizarre title that has nothing to do with the movie) is useless, openly insulting the intelligence of its audience with a broad display of villainy and toxic comic relief, while snuffing out stuntwork nuances with blitzkrieg editing. While it aspires to be cinematic junk food, the picture is relentlessly moronic, eschewing B-movie thrills to wallow in Z-movie production achievements.
A diamond thief on the prowl for a special prize, Fait (DMX) and his crew, including Daria (Gabrielle Union), Tommy (Anthony Anderson), and Miles (Drag-On), come across a bag of black stones they believe to be rare diamonds capable of being sold for an enormous amount of money. Hot on their trail is Taiwanese Intelligence Agent Su (Jet Li), who's after the stones as well, looking to hunt down those responsible for their initial disappearance. When terrorist Yao (Mark Dacascos) shows up in California to take possession of the stones, looking to harvest their unknown power, Fait and Su are forced to team up to defend their interests, a task intensified with the kidnapping of the bandit's beloved daughter. With the bag of stones repeatedly changing hands, Su and Fait search the city for clues, receiving help from dim-wit arms dealer Archie (Tom Arnold), who knows exactly what Yao is up to -- a master plan that could threaten the safety of the planet.
"Cradle 2 the Grave" opens convincingly, with director Andrzej Bartkowiak staging an impressive, if entirely implausible diamond heist, introducing the viewer to Fait's work ethic as he orchestrates a plan of missile-based destruction to retrieve his payday. It's dopey but exciting, setting a breezy tone for the picture as Fait's team displays their special skills while emphasizing the question mark of the black stones. It's a first-act hook introduced with a blaring Eminem song, getting the juices flowing, while promising more of a visceral viewing experience from Bartkowiak, himself a veteran of DMX movies, having directed "Romeo" and "Exit." "Cradle 2 the Grave" is like a family reunion at times, with the initial blast of action emerging from a familiarity with the participants, taking off hurriedly, postponing the strain of exposition.
I'd like to report that "Cradle 2 the Grave" sustains a furious momentum, rarely stopping to tell a story nobody really cares about. However, Bartkowiak isn't that brave, soon slowing down the movie to fuss over the interests of the heroes and villains, with everyone hunting for a felt sack of mysterious stones and, in Fait's case, a snatched kid. Once the picture applies the brakes, stupidity floods into the feature, forcing viewers to digest DMX as a loving father (he'd be more believable as a NASA scientist), Li as a slightly Americanized lethal weapon with one hand stuffed into his front pocket (the actor's lone pass at cursing provides the film's only laugh), and Arnold as a jester, with the jittery lip-licker unleashed in a mad attempt to add levity to an already ridiculous picture. I'd rather watch mindless mayhem and theme park stunt show choreography than deal with Arnold's feeble one-liners. Actually, the entirety of "Cradle 2 the Grave" could do with a universal muting, losing the dreadful performances (even the always likable Li is terrible and cruelly withdrawn here) to emphasize the heat of the moment, making room for physical encounters over verbal ones.
The stuntwork is impressive, with martial art showdowns, vehicle chases, and gunfights competing for screentime. Unfortunately, it's difficult to study the staging particulars due to the disorganized editing, which works to hide the seams of the planned chaos, a problem exacerbated by Bartkowiak's whooshing camerawork. "Cradle 2 the Grave" is assaultive on the senses, leaving little opportunity to get caught up in the adventure, which eventually finds Su facing off against a throng of UFC fighters, while Fait takes command of an ATV to elude the cops on city streets. There's potential entertainment in here somewhere, buried under overanxious technical and post-production achievements. Bartkowaik seems determined to make audiences feel his film instead of allowing them to enjoy it.
While "Cradle 2 the Grave" rides a line of ludicrousness in its first two acts, the film plunges into silliness for the grand finale, where we learn the true nature of the black stones during Yao's demonstration of power in front of a U.N. of international baddies, most identified by their cultural garb and skin color. Suddenly, the picture morphs into a full-out cartoon, complete with a disregard for physics and the positioning of Daria as some type of martial art heroine, despite her inability to properly strip during an earlier scene of sexual distraction. It's all so ludicrous without the natural progression to insanity other genre efforts typically labor to achieve. Although it never demands realism, "Cradle 2 the Grave" makes a desperate and strange leap towards absurdity during its climax, encouraging eye-rolls instead of cheers.
Cradle 2 the Grave Blu-ray, Video Quality
The AVC encoded image (2.41:1 aspect ratio) presentation provides a solid, clean read of frame particulars, with only a minor amount of filtering applied to keep elements of grain at bay. Fine detail is satisfactory, supplying a comfortable read of intensity from close-ups, while production design elements are preserved accurately. Costuming also brings textures to explore. Skintones look authentic. The cool color palette of the film comes across boldly, with a rich sense of hues emerging from lighting sources, while fabrics and interior paint also provides a nice boost to the image, with the color red a particular obsession. Green laser monkey business in the finale also makes a pleasing impression, popping accurately. There's little evidence of overt crush dampening the viewing experience, finding evening encounters and low-lit scenarios easily surveyed. Print is spotless.
Cradle 2 the Grave Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Utilizing an imposing soundtrack of rap tunes to lead the way, the 5.1 DTS-HD MA sound mix accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do, providing a generous low-end thump to the proceedings, while revving engines and explosions also present pleasing rumbles. The track is clean and weighty, balancing dialogue exchanges (despite mumbles and accents, the cast is always intelligible) with supportive scoring demands, creating a full frontal push that convinces. Surrounds are employed to bring an immersive feel to the music, assisting in the chaotic intent of the filmmaking, while a few directional elements remain with helicopters and street chases. No distortion was detected.
Cradle 2 the Grave Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Cradle 2 the Grave Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Filled with casual racism (to these grubby characters, Asian people might as well be Martians), random acronyms, implausible acts of escape, and a strange effort to transform Fait into a noble hero (with a no-gun policy) despite his destructive day job, "Cradle 2 the Grave" is an unpleasant picture to digest. Playing this production as a fast and loose as humanly possible would've done wonders to avoid a direct study of its failures, yet Bartkowiak genuinely believes there's something here beyond the distraction of aggression.
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