Imagine a movie that combines the music of “The Matrix” with the rapping of hip-hop Superstar DMX. Oh yeah, and then there’s Jet Li doing lots of Kung-Fu and more stupid cops than you can cram into a dozen donut shops.
Have you imagined it yet? No need to, because Warner Brothers has given us that very movie.
“Cradle 2 the Grave” is a screen “gem” in the tradition of “Menace 2 Society.” Well not exactly.
DMX (“Exit Wounds”) is a struggling young professional thief who scores a big diamond heist through a weasley, skinny, rich white guy (who would have thought?). But this isn’t just any heist.
A bag of pint-sized plutonium disguised as black diamonds is the operation’s soul purpose. After DMX’s bumbling partner loses the diamonds to government special agent Jet Li, and Li loses them yet again to a sleazy prison inmate (who still happens to be sore over DMX stealing his lady), it is only logical that fireworks would ensue.
DMX and Li must ultimately join forces to get back X’s daughter and, of course, save the world.
While this is happening, Tom Arnold is running around what on appears to be enough crack to kill an elephant, and the main female lead (Kelly Hu, “The Scorpion King”) is doing a topless strip tease to distract one of the main bad guys. The audience is left hanging on the edge of their seats with the one (and only) element of suspense that the movie offers — “What are the black diamonds, really?”
Throughout the film, DMX acts uncomfortably flat, delivers his lines in a monotone, and shows none of the edge his character “should” have.
His anti-climactic run from the police in an ATV (yes, an ATV) through the city streets simply proves that DMX should stick to rapping.
Not far behind, Jet Li is struggling to keep alive the violent far-east fight choreography that the crowds of 1998 and ‘99 drooled over, and upon which his career has been built. Li has had some great films and is skilled in fighting techniques, but most efforts like “Cradle 2 the Grave” unfortunately leave action sequences entirely up to the editor, showing action through lightning-fast editing of quick scenes.
Li should employ more of the long-take choreography that has made Jackie Chan famous, a technique this film proves he is moving away from. A lot of the fighting styles Li uses in this film make him look rigid, as he perpetually seeks out individuals grossly disproportionate to his size, and then dispenses of them accordingly. His style has evolved towards one eerily reminiscent of Steven Segal in “Hard to Kill” or that of Chuck Norris, everyone’s favorite Texas ranger.
Finally, although DMX should stay out of film, Jet Li does have a future if he can find a role outside of his narrow acting scope. Despite the fact that “Cradle 2 the Grave” is a terrible film, you might want to stick around just to see Jet Li beat up the little-person referee at a kickboxing match.
After that, the film does little else to make you want to watch.