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Dir. Andrzej Bartkowiak; writ. Channing Gibson, John O'Brien, Reggie Rock Bythewood; feat. Jet Li, DMX, Mark Dacascos, Anthony Anderson, Tom Arnold, Kelly Hu, Gabrielle Union (R)

This is the sweetest exploitation movie since Starship Troopers. The combination of whirlwind plot disintegration, needless gory violence, excessive gadgetry, and arbitrary booty makes this two-and-a-half hour a chop-fest. All the best parts of your favorite guilty pleasures are included: The hanging-on-top-of-the-train scene from Speed (where Cradle director Bartkowiak was the cinematographer); the Oreo comic relief pair lifted from Exit Wounds (which Bartkowiak directed); and the unlikely streetwise black guy/Chinese martial artist contrast that juiced up Rush Hour (which Bartkowiak, like any filmmaker hoping to find U.S. success with a Hong Kong star, surely saw).

A voiceover by a newscaster at one point of the film provides a concise explication of the plot: "This is the most Xtreme chase we've ever seen." None of the characters get names or personalities for the first hour of the flick, and choppy editing, cutting from one fight to another, adds to the gleeful melee. Every machine known to the cinema is showcased in the film's "never-been-done-before" stunts-driven plot: hot rods, helicopters, missiles, tanks, guns, motorcycles, 4x4s, and yes, even a "dimaster oscillator."

Jet Li is woefully underused, and in his few fighting scenes, grace and finesse are replaced with crunch as he breaks forearm after forearm. Though he does get to fend off 15 bloody thugs in a cage-fighting brawl, Li's talents are wasted here - it almost makes you wish Mel Gibson and Danny Glover were around to let him show off his stuff. Meanwhile, DMX is shown doing backflips off walls. Kelly Hu and Gabrielle Union bring it on with a kung-fu coat fight, Tom Arnold drives a tank, and a man gets stabbed in the head with a lobster. In the category of "so bad, it's fantastic," Cradle 2 the Grave truly is, (as its tagline indicates): "Bad 2 the bone." •

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October 21, 2020

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