'Cradle 2 the Grave'

Tuesday, March 4, 2003

Is "Cradle 2 the Grave" a movie or an infomercial for Wilson's, the Leather Experts? Turquoise, tan, red, black, purple -- there's every color of leather except cow in "Cradle 2 the Grave" and, despite its impracticality for people who run and dodge bullets a lot, virtually every character wears it (there is an 8-year-old whose leather isn't visible, but even she's probably wearing a suede teddy).

The leather is to let us know that all the people are tough but stylish, that their crimes are tough but stylish and that the way they die is tough but stylish.

It's one of those movies where we start out with bad guys (jewel thieves DMX, Gabrielle Union and Jet Li), but then some even worse guys show up, so the earlier bad guys become good guys (in the sequel, the even worse guys will probably get bumped up to good guys, and some extremely terrible guys will be the new -- oh, whatever).

Things do get a mite confusing in "Cradle" because director Andrzej Bartkowiak doesn't pay much attention to things like plot or characters. But that's not necessarily a bad thing since the dialogue is pretty lousy and the story is pretty rote. Actually, less talking would be better, since it would give the movie a higher percentage of the improbable stuff that makes it fairly entertaining.

For starters, there's a zippy chase sequence involving an all-terrain vehicle and a motorcycle in a sprint that gets even more interesting when the drivers take it indoors.

There's a supremely cool stunt, executed by Li (and his stunt double) on the side of an apartment complex. There's an insanely brutal ironman competition in which it develops that Li is more like a tungstenman. There's DMX's excellent convertible, which sustains no damage despite a head-on collision. And, most improbably of all, Tom Arnold is actually quite funny in his supporting role.

Arnold cues us that nothing in "Cradle" is meant to be taken seriously, least of all the auction for weapons of mass destruction that ends the movie, a loony affair in which the weapons go to the bustiest bidder. The scene would be scary if the way the bidders go at each other weren't so dopey, aggressively taking each other on while also making sure their hair is perfect. In other words, making sure they are tough but stylish.