Action movies are supposed to be simple. The plot should come down to a sentence or two, and then you should pretty much get right to the excitement. When an action movie equally dispenses confusion and stupidity, the only possibility of the film emerging a success lies with the quality of the action. Director Andrzej Bartkowiak and uber-producer Joel Silver, who brought us low-budget kung-fu trifles like Romeo Must Die and the Steven Seagal comeback hit Exit Wounds, choose the road less traveled and go for the plot. Unfortunately, Cradle 2 The Grave is so messily constructed and haphazardly edited that the only aspect left of merit is a few brief fight scenes.
But when a filmmaker decides to use the classic Fritz Lang thriller M (which told of underworld criminals searching for a child-murderer) as the basis for his new movie, it should be worth remembering. If you had been anticipating some exciting entertainment, all you’re going to remember is your disappointment, if that.
The plot is a flavorless package of aimless gambits and empty characters, leading to absolutely nothing. Expert diamond thief Tony Fait (DMX) and his loyal crew of professionals (Anthony Anderson, Gabrielle Union, and Drag-On) are hired to steal a cache of black diamonds. Hot on the trail of the diamonds is a Taiwanese government agent named Su (Jet Li) who has tracked the precious stones halfway around the world. When ruthless ex-government agent Ling (Mark Dacascos) kidnaps Tony’s young daughter in exchange for the diamonds, he must ally himself with the most unlikely partner: Su.
The editing is extremely chaotic. It cuts back and forth between so many situations, and so frequently that the already choppy plot is rendered progressively incomprehensible. In one portion of the film, Tony tries to infiltrate a club from a nearby rooftop. To allow him to enter safely and quietly, his partners work out distractions from the ground level. At the same time, we cut to Su and a goofy small arms dealer named Archie (a consistently funny Tom Arnold) entering an underground fighting ring where they believe they will find someone connected to the kidnapping. This section is so long and goes between so many characters that it becomes a task to figure out who is who and what exactly they are doing.
Li continues to prove himself as perhaps the most dangerous martial-artist ever to perform on the screen. In one of the earliest scenes, he drops himself off of the roof of a luxurious apartment building to grab onto the ledges floor by floor, until he meets his destination point. In one completely unnecessary (albeit enjoyable) scene, Li gets to do some serious damage. After Archie accidentally enters Su in a fighting competition and he declines to fight, the entire lineup of NFL-sized kick-boxers decide to get rough. Naturally, Su must battle each behemoth one by one. Because the sight of one man taking on an entire army will never go out of style, the scene is good for a couple of light chuckles. But anyone who has seen the infinitely superior Kiss of The Dragon would know that he has done the solo warrior thing much more stylishly.
There is a rain-drenched climactic bout between Su and Ling that takes place in a mathematically-correct ring of fire. In any other movie, this fiery fight would have been pretty cool. But there is no emotional link between the hero and villain. We are expected to simply enjoy the fight because we know that one man is the hero and the other is the villain. There is a sloppily tossed in reference to each having known the other during their early days working for the government and Ling going bad somewhere along way, but it is so obviously planted it makes no difference. This quick throwaway is used only as a tool to account for the characters’ seething facial expressions.
As the end credits roll, there is a comedic exchange between Anderson and Arnold, much like the one the duo performed at the end of Exit Wounds. In that instance, it was a harmless squirt of whipped cream on a fluffy, flavorless cake. Here, it is a pointless excuse to squeeze out a few laughs. It did little for that film; it does nothing for this. They might as well have shown outtakes if they were looking for some last laughs. That, or had Steven Seagal pop up in a cameo.