Poor acting combined with the plausibility level of a G.I. Joe cartoon haunts Cradle 2 the Grave from the start. Bartkowiak (Romeo Must Die) presents the audience with two highly specialized entertainers unable to break out of their typecast niches. For Jet Li, whose English is barely comprehendible, he cannot bond with X unless its through the universal language of fighting, and for X, while he can flex his tattooed body and be intimidating as anyone, his "tough guy" persona is limiting. So we have two Alphas with no sense of humor, facing a noticeable language barrier and an inhibiting script. No doubt the film would have been better if the villain Ling, played by Mark Dacascos (The Brotherhood of the Wolf), were to have switched roles with Li. Then at least he and X could have had at least one much-needed bonding moment. Instead, our heroes are left simply staring at one another in awkward downtime as they wait for the action to arrive.
Even the fighting scenes aren't as gory or as fun as could be. Steven Seagal thunderously broke bones more impressively, and nobody walks up walls better than Jackie Chan. Of course, Bruce Lee was the master of speed and precision, but Li comes off largely like a cheap imitation of all three. I thought his big stunt was disarming people with weapons -- what happened to that?
The story is as fickle as it is cliched. Tony Fait (DMX) and his gang steal a cache of mysterious black diamonds that are the property of the Taiwanese government. When the payoff goes awry, a notorious LA crime lord then steals the diamonds from Fait. Eventually they end up in the evil hands of Ling (Mark Dacascos), a former Taiwanese agent hell bent on selling them off to the highest bidder. In order to get the diamonds, Ling takes Fait's daughter hostage, which pairs him with Su (Jet Li), who's been sent by the Taiwanese government to retrieve the stones, no matter what the cost.
The credibility level borders on ridiculous even for a martial arts film. In the opening scene DMX and counterpart Drag-On (a fellow Ruff Ryders rapper) use a rocket launcher to break into a safe. However, the security guards dismiss the distraction as an earthquake. Even less believable, when Ling's chopper is shot down and explodes, he walks away unscathed, hair perfectly in place and ready to take on Su. But the biggest whopper of all occurs with the depiction of "the world's foremost arms dealers," who are called to helicopter into an LA airport to bid on the black diamonds. The hodgepodge of extras used for this scene look like a group of folks borrowed from a local Santa Monica Starbucks, and their incredulous expressions are priceless as they are told the diamonds' secret use. Where's the Al Qaida representative for a little xeno-bashing?
How the movie garnered an R rating is another mystery. There is no nudity or drug use, and it's not nearly as violent as the PG-13 flick The Recruit, currently in theaters. The rating will ultimately hurt the film at the box office. Young people are the main audience for this brand of action and music, which is the only reason to stay until the end. DMX has a couple of songs featured on the soundtrack, Eminem is heard rapping to the opening credits, and the hit, "X Gon' Give it to Ya" bumping through the theater at several points had arms raised and heads bobbing in rhythm.
If you do make it all the way through, stick around for the closing credits, which provide a few laughs between Tom Arnold and Anthony Anderson. The pair deliver an off the cuff farewell that provides a good chuckle as you walk out, pondering how the movie ever got made.
You can check out their riff on DVD as well, which features the obligatory DMX video as well as a handful of featurettes (including two "hidden" featurettes that I challenge anyone to bother searching for).
We'll stick with the cradle, thanks!
Run time: 101 mins
In Theaters: Friday 28th February 2003
Box Office USA: $34.5M
Box Office Worldwide: $56.5M
Distributed by: Warner Bros.
Production compaines: Silver Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 1 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 26%
Fresh: 31 Rotten: 90
IMDB: 5.7 / 10
Director: Andrzej Bartkowiak
Producer: Joel Silver
Screenwriter: John O'Brien, Channing Gibson