Buddy Movie of the Week

'Cradle 2 the Grave' has lots of action, stuff exploding and--oh yeah--two guys that become friends.

In the old days, buddy movies followed a simple formula: there was a white guy, and he'd meet another white guy, and they'd fight, but then they'd solve a crime or kidnap an elephant or introduce a new breakfast cereal together, and in the end, they'd be friends.

Things changed drastically in the '80s with such films as Lethal Weapon and Beverly Hills Cop and James Bond Versus the Hegemonic Forces of Cultural Imperialism. In these and the many films like them, a white guy would meet a black guy, and they'd fight, and then they'd bring down a drug kingpin or make a fortune on stocks or buy sheets together. It was a brave new world full of jokes about how white people were unskilled at dancing and black people spoke in an unusual dialect.

It seemed that the buddy movie then stagnated. What else could be done, now that the so-called "color barrier" had been broken like an octogenarian's hip bone? With a new century dawning, the later 1990s sought desperately for an answer.

It came in the form of the most radical Hollywood move since the invention of the PG-13 rating: a buddy movie wherein a black guy met an Asian guy, and they fought and then co-signed a loan or made taffy or destabilized a foreign government together and then became friends.

So now, as the 21st century ages like a fine English cheese, and we await the coming of the Native American guy/Asian guy buddy movie (currently predicted to hit in the year 2023), we can watch as the various formulations of the black guy/Asian guy movie get played out.

One thing that all such movies have in common is that the Asian guy is a kung fu master. Apparently, based on what I've seen of U.S. cinema, about 65 percent of all Asians are kung fu masters. With this in mind, I can well understand why George W. Bush is so eager to take on the Iraqis and so afraid of offending the North Koreans: No doubt he fears that Kim Jong Il will send him flying through a plate-glass window with a spinning dragon kick to the head.

Anyway, I recount the general history of the buddy movie (above history © me, 2003, so hands off, Ken Burns!) because there's just not much to say about Cradle 2 the Grave. It's as standardized as an Oscars acceptance speech and about as inventive.

Sure, DMX and Jet Li team up to make things explode. Why wouldn't they? And frankly, DMX is a pretty compelling action hero in the Arnold Schwarzenegger "why bother acting when I've got this scowl perfected?" school of drama.

Further, Jet Li, coming from the same school, adds a delightful series of bone-crushing martial arts moves which are sure to keep facial reconstructive surgeons busy for years.

And Gabrielle Union, whose job in this film is to look incredibly hot (as several of the characters note while staring down her dress), does a great job of it. If only everyone could live up to their job description so well. If only.

Strangely, Tom Arnold is also in this movie, in what is rapidly becoming my favorite new Hollywood stereotype: white guy as comic relief. Even stranger, he is, in many respects, the highlight of the film. I'm pretty sure Tom Arnold isn't even the highlight of his own life, so this must be quite a thrill for him

But beyond that, the buddy formula is followed so slavishly you'd think it had been captured by pirates and sold to a barbarian chieftain. We start with DMX thieving some jewels, thus establishing that he's a jewel thief. Cut to Jet Li policing the area, thus establishing that he's a policeman. Now cut to the following scenes, in whatever order you care to: DMX's daughter is kidnapped, Jet Li and DMX team up, stuff explodes, stuff explodes, stuff explodes, Jet Li kicks somebody in the teeth and stuff explodes.

Not that this is a bad movie, mind you. Indeed, director Andrzej (pronounced "Andrzej") Bartkowiak is a master cinematographer in the technical mould, so when things explode in his movies, they explode real good. He's not exactly a master director, so it's a little hard to care that they explode, but still, if you're just in it for the explosions and the kung fu fights and the scowling action heroes, you've come to the right place.

And I can't imagine that anyone goes to Cradle 2 the Grave, or any of its kin, looking for well-drawn characters and a cutting commentary on economic inequality in post-Cold War America. Still, action films have been done better by paying more attention to cohesion in the plot and pacing in the revelation of important details.

But if you want to see a guy exploding after he's been karate-chopped, then I can recommend no better movie this week than Cradle 2 the Grave.

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