The Art of War
review by Elias Savada, 25 August 2000

Slick as the soaking rain that pours through much of this dregs-at-the-end-of-summer action chase flick, The Art of War is drenched with a script so incomprehensible you’d prefer Chinese water torture than wracking your brain trying to keep score. The only person who wins is the dry cleaner working overtime trying to keep Wesley Snipes’ secret agent Neil Shaw’s designer rags from shrinking in the Big Apple downpours he can’t seem to avoid, or the glazier who gets to fix all the broken windows. It’s another in the string of bigger-than-life pictures (Blade, U.S. Marshals, and Passenger 57 among them) that showcase Snipes’ unwavering admiration for the genre and martial-arts infatuation, even if his acting skills are sidetracked for chop-socky stunt work, flashy editing, Matrix-style special effects, and some really dumb dialogue and a predictably soggy ending supplied by Wayne Beach (co-writer of Snipes’ Murder at 1600) and Simon Davis Barry, who gave up (perhaps temporarily) a career as an assistant cameraman. As students of Pacific Rim social economics, they flunk.

As a United Nations super secret agent, a spy without a license, Shaw apparently likes to jot down superman as occupation on his resume, and a gung-ho one at that. As the film opens, a millennium party finds him as a short hair, black eyeglass, bow-tied Islamic Clark Kent able to leap off tall buildings in Hong Kong in a single, carefree bound. Later he dodges bullets shot at near point blank range. His Lois Lane is Julia Fang (The Corruptor’s Marie Matiko), a translator sucked up in the intrigue following the assassination of the Chinese Ambassador (James Wu) at a posh New York hotel recently purchased by David Chan (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), a corrupt businessman. Seems everyone is chatting Chan up as a bad egg, yet other than Shaw in disguise as a bogus U.N. television reporter, security is nowhere to be found. Except for a cadre of New York City cops standing outside in the rain. Waiting to catch the wrong guy.

The leader of the conspiracy behind sabotaging an impeding U.S.-Chinese trade pact might be the possible mastermind of the killing, and of the deaths of Vietnamese refugees stuffed in a dockside-shipping container. Before you confirm that your guess is your final answer, consider the possibilities:

Shaw: Heck if he kills and blackmails for a living, even if it’s for the American way. What about his reluctant partner in crime…

Julia: Maybe she’s not really a translator. And don’t you hate people who crack their knuckles. Isn’t that her on the phone with…

Shaw’s supervisor, UN security chief of covert operations Eleanor Hooks (Anne Archer): Perhaps she’s a clear and present danger. She’s a career diplomat in need of a better makeup artist when she’s in room with…

Her well-coiffed boss, Douglas Thomas: The Canadian-born space cowboy Donald Sutherland playing a Canadian-born lame duck U.N. Secretary General who’s pissed at everyone for spoiling his party, especially if it’s…

The mysterious Mr. Chan and his Chinese triad minions:  Well, you know he’s knee deep in doo-doo. Is he actually in it up to his neck? And standing right next to him on the podium is 

Ambassador Wu: Well it’s not him. The “architect of China’s future” takes a bullet early on, but before that he aroused the suspicions of…

The FBI (sure they have bad apples too):  in the guise of Francis Cappella, an agent embodied as Santa Claus by Maury Chaikin, who adds the most dimension to his lowly but serious role. He doesn’t seem interested at all in…

Shaw’s efficient, elite, high-tech sidekicks: Novak (Liliana Komorowska),  and Bly (Michael Biehn). A pale imitation of the guys from True Lies they’re chock full of gadgets and throwaway lines. They should be hired by the local cable company, because they sure know how to stream embarrassing eyeglass-cam shots of a pedophilic North Korean defense minister to big screen TV’s. In a pick-up basketball game, Bly shows that white men can jump. Although I don’t think they mention…

The President of the United States: He gets his name bantered around a few times. But he’s probably only interested in the interns down in the lobby. Hey…

What about Regis? Maybe it’s Kathie Lee? Mission: Improbable.

The really guilty party is…director Christian Duguay (Screamers). It’s a murky film with a loud soundtrack, creaky doors, and MTV feel. I wouldn’t even want to own the DVD.

Two dreadful flaws make a bad film worse. Shaw has the inexplicable empathic ability to recreate unseen murders and see, via fuzzily perceived flashbacks. He can see a gang member close up handing off a computer diskette to an Asian compatriot. Shaw may be smart and observant, but this is outright stupid.

One of the places the hero goes to collect his thoughts is a semi-abandoned tunnel under New York City, backing up any of the cars he borrows deep within its bowels. His cell phone, while certainly not standard issue, has perfect reception. Later, Julia gets nothing but weak signals from the upper floor of the UN building, crunched next to the window! Must be a bad service provider.

Snipes may be a dedicated soldier/warrior (he also co-produced), but The Art of War as conspiracy theory thriller earns no medals. It’s dead in the water that engulfs it.

Directed by:
Christian Duguay

Wesley Snipes
Anne Archer
Maury Chaikin
Marie Matiko
Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa
Michael Biehn
Donald Sutherland

Written by:
Wayne Beach
Simon Davis Barry




  Copyright © 1996-2005 by Nitrate Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.