When Gabrielle Union (“Bring It On”) decided to pursue a career in acting, she likely did not envision herself robbing a diamond depository alongside DMX and his rapping, Ruff Ryder cohort Drag-On (“Exit Wounds”). However, such a scene exists in “Cradle 2 the Grave,” and unfortunately, the misguided episode serves as this ridiculous movie’s fulcrum.

Todd Weiser
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Union, X and Drag are three members of a mercenary, jewel-pillaging crew who, aided by fellow ne’er-do-well Anthony Anderson (“See Spot Run”), pilfer rare, black diamonds, which are eventually stolen (again) and later revealed to each contain a synthetic plutonium more explosive than two Hiroshima-sized nuclear bombs.

Jet Li (“Once Upon a Time in China”) plays Su, a Taiwanese police officer vested with the responsibility of recovering the special weapons, aids X’s band of loveable criminals as they attempt to get the diamonds and save X’s daughter, who becomes involved in the convoluted story. The plot’s bizarre revelation about the diamonds does not even summon a viewer’s incredulity by the time it is disclosed, though, because the film conditions you to ignore reality from the movie’s inception.

For example, in the aforementioned heist, the group succeeds by using a rocket-propelled device to break the door protecting the diamond safe, but the unruly disturbance goes unnoticed because Anderson’s character, Tommy, successfully occupies the lone guard’s attention by appealing to the guard’s homosexual libido. The scene’s premise seems to rest on director Andrzej Bartkowiak’s assumption that the audience will believe that any man whose sexual interest is sufficiently aroused would disregard a rocket smashing through walls.

Were such a farce absent, “Cradle” would still suffer from bad acting. DMX is wooden and recites his lines as though he were practicing the wink-wink acting style so prevalent in rap videos. He seems to be expecting a beat and bikini-clad girls to break out at any moment, freeing him from the dramatic obligation to pretend that is central to movies. Li isn’t any better, mumbling his lines as he waits for the next opportunity to display his well-documented martial arts prowess.

Those who see “Cradle” expecting a breathtaking display of these abilities will only have exacerbated disappointment. The fight scenes are filmed with too many quick cuts and shot at too many odd angles, both depriving viewers of the necessary vantage from which they can marvel at Li’s tremendous physical gifts. The movie’s final scene, in which Li and overarching villain (there are several lesser foes) Mark Dacascos (“Only the Strong”) engage in a martial arts duel while stranded by a ring of burning jet fuel, attempts to satiate the audience, yet that doesn’t even work.

The other actors are asked to do little. Union simply shows up looking pretty and that suffices; Drag-On does even less. The most memorable performances are those intended to provide comic relief. Anderson is amusing as the group’s jack-of-all-trades while Tom Arnold, who plays a black market arms dealer, drops a few entertaining wisecracks.

“Cradle 2 the Grave” is less than the sum of its parts and will only interest die-hard Jet Li fans, Gabrielle Union worshippers and those loyal to the hip-hop-meets-martial-arts genre that has just added another forgettable film to its catalogue.

2 Stars

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