Find your inner ape

Jet Li earns a perfect “10” for his pommel horse routine at the 2006 Olympics, which will take place in a Hollywood studio

Jet Li earns a perfect “10” for his pommel horse routine at the 2006 Olympics, which will take place in a Hollywood studio

Rated 3.0

When approaching Cradle 2 the Grave, one must realize that the film is made for the ape in you. If you have no desire to get in touch with your inner ape, and you’d much rather be sewing or riding a tandem bike with your sweet, wholesome lover, stay away from this one. If you are in the mood to see some ass-kicking, half-naked women and Tom Arnold cracking wise, then bust out the bananas and start scaling trees.

When producer Joel Silver’s name crawled across the screen during the credits, I let out a little “Uh oh.” I generally go about 1 for 4 with his mostly moronic movies. Yes, the Die Hards and Predators were cool, but this man also had a hand in Xanadu and Commando. For the record, I also hated the Lethal Weapons.

It’s appropriate to mention Commando, because Cradle is sort of like Commando only done better. It uses the kidnapped daughter routine, and replaces Arnold’s dopey military man with a professional thief (DMX) and a Taiwanese Intelligence man (Jet Li, finally getting it right in an American movie).

Directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak, a former cinematographer (Speed) turned director of truly awful Jet Li and Steven Seagal flicks (Romeo Must Die, Exit Wounds), the film is a sometimes glorious foray into action and debauchery. Asses are kicked with blessed aplomb, and asses also gyrate to blessed effect. The movie won’t be getting one of those “Approved by a Dorky Family Watchdog Organization” awards.

Out of the gate, this is a slick movie with sharp editing, excellent camerawork and crisp action. When Li steps out on an apartment building’s terrace and scales down the outside of the building by jumping from floor to floor, it is also obvious that the movie will show us some new sights.

The film offers plenty of hardcore, thrilling action, including an excellent all terrain vehicle race through city streets, a bloody steel cage match, a decent jewel heist and some good martial arts with Li at the center. While Jackie Chan has been busy dancing around like an idiot with the likes of Owen Wilson and Jennifer Love Hewitt, Li has snuck in with a pretty good, down and dirty action fest. Something tells me we won’t see Li doing any butt-kicking while Singin’ in the Rain warbles on the soundtrack.

DMX isn’t the most charismatic of action heroes, but he’s more than adequate. The movie supplies him with a large crew, featuring the heavenly Gabrielle Union and comic relief from Anthony Anderson and Tom Arnold. Arnold is essentially doing the same thing he did in True Lies, acting all nervous and twitchy while delivering decent one-liners.

As for Union, her crossover into action fare is decent, and performs one particular dance scene that will drive your eyeballs through your cerebral cortex, out your skull, through the back of the theater and into the projectionist’s glass of juice. She doesn’t, however, get fully naked. Dammit.

Also present are Mark Dacascos and Kelly Hu as villains. Hu and Union have a decent showdown during the film’s finale, but none of their garments fall off during the smack downs. Double dammit!

A strange sci-fi subplot is thrown in for good measure, and it might prove too much for some. Cradle 2 the Grave will have its fair share of detractors for being a bit extreme. Come to think of it, it will have its fair share of patrons wishing to throw bricks and small animals at the screen. You can call me Gorilla Boy, ‘cause I managed to get a kick out of it.