Cradle 2 the Grave
review by Cynthia
Fuchs, 28 February 2003
X gon' give it to ya. Deemed "The Next Tom Cruise" by
no less an authority than GQ magazine, the prolific,
asthmatic, and charismatic Dark Man X continues to power his way
into the movies. In Cradle 2 the Grave, he plays Tony Fait,
thief extraordinaire, introduced mid-heist. He and his partners --
Daria (Gabrielle Union), Miles (Drag-On, X's Ruff Ryders associate),
and Tommy (the irrepressible Anthony Anderson) -- break into a
diamond exchange, armed with the latest in cutting-and-piercing
laser-gizmos and form-fitting black t-shirts. All this under
Eminem's rousing "Go To Sleep": "I ain't gonna eat / I ain't gonna
sleep / Ain't gonna breathe, til I see, what I wanna see."
At the same
time, Su (Jet Li) makes a stunning entrance. He positions himself on
a high-rise hotel rooftop, then proceeds to drop from floor to
floor, grabbing successive balcony ledges with his fingertips. When
he reaches the floor he wants, he smashes through the window, then
deftly brutalizes his mark into giving up the heist location. The
whole business takes a couple of minutes.
movie aficionados will surmise, this speedy split-intro means that
Tony and Su will be working together, soon. And indeed, even as Su
cruises to the crime-in-progress scene, he takes a moment to call
his seeming adversary, warning him to get out, as he's also called
in L.A. SWAT. Also no surprise, this apparent good sportsmanship
stems from Su's ulterior motives. He's a Taiwanese Intelligence
officer looking to recover the very same black diamonds that Tony
and crew are pilfering. As he later tells Tony, these diamonds
"aren't what you think they are" (though again, any action-buddy
move fan worth her salt has already guessed that much).
Tony, being a
cocky sort who resents being told what to do (a point which will be
made again and again, and again), grabs up his crew and the
diamonds, plus a special teardrop diamond necklace for his beloved
six-year-old daughter Vanessa (Paige Hurd), and escapes. Or, at
least he does until he's hunted down, first by Su, and then by Su's
own special enemies, the sinister Ling (Mark Dacascos, amazing in
Brotherhood of the Wolf, here only revealing his skills in a big
dealio "ring of fire" showdown with Li) and his forever fuming
henchgirl Sona (Kelly Hu).
scoundrels kidnap Vanessa (a refreshingly resourceful victim), the
film's many intersecting but mostly arbitrary subplots start kicking
in. For one, Tony and Su visit a crime-boss named Chambers (Chi
McBride with fat cigar) in prison, whereupon you learn that Tony
enticed Daria away from Chambers, who sustains a major grudge. "It's
my little girl," Tony pleads. "So make another one," sneers the big
meanie. (Per formula, it's only a matter of time before this
Suge-ish guy gets his.)
subplot scene, Daria is dispatched to distract Chambers'
club-managing minion, Odion (The Shield's Michael Jace), who
looks mighty distracting himself, in his black velvet jacket and
deep red shirt. She strips down to red underwear, while Tommy plays
a bugman. Literally: he pretends to be an exterminator, oldest trick
in the damn book. And this inane ruse bothers him less than playing
sexual-object distraction for a male security guard earlier in the
film. Let's just say that the gay flirt-bugman range doesn't exactly
stretch Anderson's considerable talents.
But he's only
along for a ride here. The third kung-fu-hiphop one-two punch by
Bartkowiak, Cradle 2 the Grave is also the second time he's
worked with Li, who is reliably cool (their first film together was
Romeo Must Die , which also featured DMX for a minute).
Su has a "unique fighting style," conceived for the film by Li and
endlessly inventive Corey Yuen, so brilliant and self-assured that
he can beat back challengers with one hand in his pocket.
Li often takes
on rooms full of big-bodied blowhards. Here, he does so during a
notably incongruous set piece in an Ultimate Fighting Club, where he
confronts real-life UFC champions Randy "The Natural" Coture, Tito
Ortiz, and Chick Liddell. The battle over-stimulates the
bloodthirsty in-house audience, giving the movie audience a standard
double chance: you can scorn these losers and also share in their
excitement. They roar and sputter, hang on the cage, burst out of
their blouses if they are women, and wave fistfuls of cash and beer
bottle, as such bloodthirsty audiences are wont to do.
One member of
this audience is Tony's fence, Archie (Tom Arnold, another
Bartkowiak veteran, from Exit Wounds (2001), which also
featured DMX, in a slightly larger role than in Romeo, as
well as Anderson: the reunion omits Steven Seagal, otherwise engaged
these days, presumably with his many court dates). Su and Archie
make a strange yet familiar team. The former is as fast on his feet
as the latter is prodigiously motor-mouthed. (Archie is the only one
of Tony's associates able to identify Su's badge; when Tony is
impressed that he reads Chinese, Archie demurs, "I don't, but I read
'cop' in any language.") It appears that Su and Archie emulate
something of the dynamic that Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker offer in
the Rush Hours, except that Li doesn't use refrigerators or
ladders as props, and Tom Arnold is... well, he's Tom Arnold.
Archie and Su's
teaming also allows Tony some time alone. He puts this to use by
fighting a little, fretting a little, getting arrested, then
escaping the cops in flamboyant style, namely, by riding all over
town -- most spectacularly, leaping from rooftop to rooftop -- on an
All Terrain Vehicle. It's no small thing that driving ATVs is
reportedly one of DMX's favorite off-camera pastimes, for it
suggests that the script is accommodating the star's disposition.
matters whether this disposition is substantive or a function of
marketing. The point is that DMX, rowdy and respected MC, is now
being treated by filmmakers -- Bartkowiak, producer Joel Silver --
as an important commodity, a name brand. Surely, ever since his
breakout as Tommy in Hype Williams' Belly (1998), DMX has
been headed in this direction. And, he has a particular sense of his
own strengths. He's not been so loosey-goosey about his role choices
as Ice T (Frankenpenis, Leprechaun in the Hood), so
determined to be a bona fide actor as P. Diddy (Monster's Ball,
Made), or so conscientiously entrepreneurial as Master P (Foolish,
Lockdown). Instead, he has selected parts built for him, his
crossover rough-but-also-upright demeanor, with added martial arts
for his hiphop fanbase.
Now that he's
worked his way into a starring role and announced his retirement
from music (citing the intrinsic, invincible unfairness of the
industry's treatment of artists), DMX is concentrating on movies.
This entails, as the GQ article notes, adjusting to a new
culture (where time is quite precisely money). The magazine, in
fact, shifts its point from cover to story: its declarative cover
caption ("DMX is the next Tom Cruise") turns into a question inside
("Is DMX the next Tom Cruise?").
decency, hard childhood, and commitment to his family ground his
resistance to L.A.'s customary codes of behavior ("I'm not kissing
no f*ckin' ass"). More power to him. He not only expects mutual
respect, but he also brings obvious appeal and incipient
superstardom (the man single-handedly resurrected Seagal's career,
briefly). Perhaps it's more helpful to ask, what does it mean for a
hiphop artist with street and jail time behind him, a black man
publicly down for his community -- however talented, however adored
-- to be called "the next Tom Cruise"? Does this signal an actual
change in the way Hollywood, and by extension, the U.S.
entertainment industry, does business? or does it mean more of the
same, more exploitation, more pain? Will DMX soon be headlining a
multi-bijillion dollar franchise like the Mission Impossibles?
Will his production company be able to finance such major league
From Cradle 2 the Grave, a B-movie even if it does boast some
A-movie stunts, can't begin to answer these broad, industry-shaking
questions. But they're provocative questions. And it's encouraging
that they might even be asked.
R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult