Cradle 2 the Grave Review
Following a daring heist of some black diamonds, DMX and his gang of cohorts discover that they are more valuable than expected. In fact, everyone from Jet Li to Mark Dacascos and Kelly Hu are after them, leading to multiple fights, chases and explosions in the typical Joel Silver style. As DMX so eloquently puts it: “What is it with these fucking diamonds?”
Yes, Cradle 2 the Grave is a simple film, and the first impression would be that surely the film can’t sustain its 97 minutes running time. Surprisingly, Cradle 2 the Grave not only manages to hold the interest of the viewer, but also manages to supply a fair amount of entertainment. And this is a film from Andrzej Bartkowiak, the director of Romeo Must Die and Exit Wounds (which have similarly meaningless titles), surely the two worst films in Joel Silver’s filmography since Andrew Dice Clay vehicle The Adventures of Ford Fairlane. The mind boggles.
So what went right? Well firstly the writers appear to be fully aware of the scanty material, and have decided to only drip feed the exposition very slowly. The numerous supporting players roles in the piece only become clear as the film progresses, rather than simply letting it all out from the word go, and hoping that a few action scenes will sustain the momentum. Of course, they still manage to write some appalling dialogue, but its admirable that they’ve aimed to produce an action film that intends to keep the viewer paying attention during the bits in between the set pieces.
Secondly, the filmmakers have amassed a fairly large ensemble cast ranging from lead DMX to “token white guy” Tom Arnold. Obviously, we’re not talking of a gathering of actors on a par with such Robert Altman pictures as Nashville or Short Cuts, but it does allow the film a little space to breath, even if it does relegate genre stars Jet Li and Mark Dacascos to what are essentially supporting roles.
Surprisingly, this relegation actually works in the Cradle 2 the Grave’s favour. A brief look at Jet Li’s American career so far films which are either exceedingly poor (Kiss of the Dragon, Romeo Must Die) or aren’t quite sure what to do with him (the Lethal Weapon films were already overcrowded with the likes of Joe Pesci to survive his entering the mix in the fourth installment as well). Even more disappointing is the fact that American directors always seem too happy to diminish his talents by editing with far too many cuts and using far too many close-ups. His Hong Kong career, from his first appearances in the Shaolin Temple films to the heights of the Once Upon a Time in China movies for Tsui Hark, is full of astonishing athleticism, yet outside of his native land filmmakers seem unsure what to do with him. The same applies here, yet with so many other actors vying for our attention, it becomes only a minor flaw rather than a major one. (The top billing Jet Li receives is slightly beguiling because of this; surely it's a case of marketing?)
The huge cast ploy works best when dealing with the comic relief. As anyone who had the misfortune of seeing either Exit Wounds or Romeo Must Die will be aware, Anthony Anderson can be truly annoying on-screen presence. Yet in small doses, he proves to be fairly amusing. The same goes for Tom Arnold, and, in this film at least, make quite an appealing odd couple.
The one major let-down from this approach is the placing of Mark Dacascos in a tiny role. Despite a number of appearances in terrible made-for-cable movies, Dacascos has built up a cult following thanks to such gems as Drive and Brotherhood of the Wolf. Apparently he gained the role following a poll to discover who Jet Li’s fans would most like him to face on-screen. Of course, being the main villain, this fight does indeed take place, yet once more this is hampered by incessant editing. A shame as Dacascos deserves to find a bigger audience, and a teaming with Li would have seemed the perfect way to achieve this.
Of course, being a Joel Silver production, Cradle 2 the Grave doesn’t rely entirely on martial arts for its thrills. We’re also given a chase involving a quad bike, motorcycle and numerous police cars; a tank firing at a helicopter; and some inventive abseiling. And, unsurprisingly, director Bartkowiak proves more adept at directing these than anything else in the film.
Cradle 2 the Grave’s biggest pleasures, however, derive from the fact that the film seems more in tune with the “earlier, funnier” Silver pictures. The likes of Commando and Predator had a simple no-bullshit attitude to their approach to the material and that is exactly what we get here. Indeed, with this year’s other big Joel Silver picture, The Matrix Reloaded, frequently in danger of disappearing up its own arse, this back to basics approach is refreshing to say the least. If approached as the no-nonsense, no-brainer that it is, Cradle 2 the Grave become perfectly palatable entertainment.
Picture and Sound
Visually, the disc is absolutely flawless. Everything in this film looks perfect, from the helicopters to the haircuts, unsurprising considering its directed by a cinematographer - and this is wonderfully reflected.
Soundwise, the disc is equally fine. The constant mix of the latest hip hop sounds (50 Cent, Method Man, Jay-Z and, of course, DMX) and techno sounds great, and never becomes overbearing on the dialogue. Plus, this being a Joel Silver pic, the explosions and bullets are plentiful, giving the 5.1 mix a hefty workout.
Surprisingly, Warner Bros. have offered little in the way of extras. The centre-piece is a collection of three featurettes (totalling 19 mins) each focusing on a separate set-piece. The main cast and crew members relevant to the scenes are interviewed, though nothing overly revelatory comes off it.
Backing these up are a DMX music video (nothing spectacular despite its evident big budget), theatrical trailer, an unnecessary cast and crew list, and DVD-ROM features connecting to Warner Bros internet events and the such.
An undemanding film that offers simple rewards. Despite a strong presentation on disc, there are sadly few extras of note. Though it’s a moot point as to whether such a film would benefit in this area.
This disc is released on September the 15th.