Critical reevaluation hasn’t been bestowed upon Andrzej Bartkowiak, so that’s another thinkpiece I just might have to write. I’m sorry, but when it comes to Cradle 2 the Grave, I’ll keep things simple. If DMX riding an ATV through traffic and on rooftops on a police chase juxtaposed against Jet Li fighting a small army in a UFC cage match while “X Gon’ Give it to Ya” blares doesn’t get your adrenaline flowing, you need to check your pulse.
Cradle 2 the Grave has Bartkowiak and company getting (most of) the band back together for another hybrid movie mixing martial arts-style combat with urban sensibilities. Stupid stylistic title aside, the film is not a sequel to Romeo Must Die, but one could say it’s a spiritual successor. Jet Li, DMX, rapper Drag-On, and Anthony Anderson return for another light-hearted, violent romp that doesn’t take itself too seriously, reminding you not to do the same. It further solidifies Bartkowiak’s prowess at staging high-octane sequences of chases and combat all while the script (written by John O’Brien and Channing Gibson) integrates energetic personalities into the mayhem.
Things begin with career thief Anthony Fait (DMX) and his crew — comprised of his reliable right-hand man Miles (Drag-On), the pretty faced Daria (Union), and the affable Tommy (Anderson) — pulling off a major jewel heist at a highly secured vault. They narrowly escape a SWAT team phoned by a Taiwanese agent named Su (Jet Li), whose primary goal is to retrieve a bag of black diamonds Fait nabbed in his heist. Fait thinks he has a goldmine in these black diamonds, not waiting very long to take them to his pal Archie (Tom Arnold) to have them appraised.
Reality sets in when a rival criminal (and Su’s ex-partner) Yao (Mark Dacascos) kidnaps Fait’s daughter Vanessa (Paige Hurd), holding her hostage for the diamonds. This prompts Fait and Su to join forces reluctantly. What becomes a winner-take-all game for Fait soon becomes a desperate mission to retrieve his daughter.
Let’s run down this cast. Jet Li and DMX need little introduction. While Romeo Must Die had them more-or-less existing on opposite ends of the narrative, they spend most of the time on-screen as a pair. There’s humor in the way Fait and Su are forced to be partners but their communication between one another is kept to a minimum despite frequently sharing a scene. But this goes back to a film that makes presences out of personalities. Su’s presence is felt in moments such as when Fait visits an old accomplice in prison. This odd couple pairing has weight the moment the two barge into a room.
Gabrielle Union might not be Aaliyah, but she’s a welcomed addition. Furthermore, Tom Arnold provides comic relief in conjunction with Anthony Anderson, who is toned down just a smidge from his broad caricature in Bartkowiak’s directorial debut. The two men get an extended moment to riff over the self-referential end credits sequence in a way that reminds you, once again, not to take Cradle 2 the Grave super seriously.
The mayhem itself is liable to win you over at some point. The heists themselves are well-choreographed. Derek Brechin’s editing is mostly clear and uninhibited by that frustrating lack of spatial awareness one can sometimes experience during high-stakes moments. You have car chases, ATV chases, and Arnold driving a tank with Anderson operating a sentry gun. At a certain point, you simply have to sit back and relish in the chaos, even if it might not be as gracefully paced as something like Romeo Must Die.
While lacking the nuance of shared chemistry between certain performers that helped elevate Romeo Must Die, Bartkowiak again assembles a reliable band of recognizable faces whose charisma makes Cradle 2 the Grave more likable than your average, run-of-the-mill actioneer. A thumping soundtrack featuring Birdman, Fat Joe, and X himself yet again ties together a film that accomplishes what it sets out to do and leaves you with fumes of excitement on which to indulge as/after the credits roll.
NOTE: My review of Romeo Must Die: stevethemovieman.proboards.com/thread/6724/romeo-die
Starring: Jet Li, DMX, Mark Dacascos, Gabrielle Union, Tom Arnold, Anthony Anderson, and Paige Hurd. Directed by: Andrzej Bartkowiak.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!