Monthly Archives: February 2003

Cradle 2 the Grave (2003)

Once again with Cradle 2 the Grave, Hollywood has reminded us of the magic of the buddy film with the incorrigible rapscallion rapper DMX teamed up with stoic kung fu master Jet Li. Oh wait, did I saw buddy comedy, because what I meant to say was, “pretty mediocre movie.”

DMX plays master jewel thief Tony Fait. He and his covert team (which includes one of the stars of Kangaroo Jack, take that for what you will) have been hired to steal priceless black diamonds. It appears others are also after these lucrative diamonds including Su (Li), Taiwanese cop, and some international arms dealers that steal Fait’s daughter. Only really bad guys steal kids. Fait and Su form an unlikely team to recover his daughter and the black diamonds, which are revealed as powerful high-grade plutonium. And you better believe that their investigation has them stop by a strip club at least once.

Let’s just say that acting is not the strong suit of Li or DMX. The rapper (whose real name is the non-threatening “Earl”) scowls a lot, as if he’s thinking some extra muscle will do the acting for him. Li seems sleepy or drugged, but he’s best when the fists are flying and his conversation is kept to a minimum.

The plot to Cradle 2 the Grave is besides the point. The movie tries to make DMX seem like the good kind of jewel thief, you know, the one you’d like living next door. He won’t allow guns, he steals Robin Hood-style from drug dealers, and he loves his little tyke. He even reforms a prostitute (Gabrielle Union). But if DMX is such the master jewel thief then wouldn’t he know that black diamonds aren’t real?

Li is a furious fighter, and his previous film Kiss of the Dragon proved to me that he could utilize chopsticks and pool balls as lethal weaponry. But with Cradle 2 the Grave he goes one step further, and one step closer to the bizarre world of make believe, by using, of all things, dwarves and lobsters as deadly weapons. What’s next Jet Li? Throwing cancer patients and school children?

Director Andrzej Bartkowiak has previously directed bombs Romeo Must Die and Exit Wounds, another DMX-teams-with-martial-artist vehicle. After Cradle 2 the Grave I say, three strikes and you’re out as a director. Yes, acting and story are not as important in an action film as most genres, however, Bartkowiak directs the action scenes like he’s caught in them. The camera will sway around like it’s ducking a punch and too often focus tightly on people and make rapid-fire cuts. You can’t enjoy the action because Bartkowiak won’t let you see what’s going on. The film’s climax is like a gigantic end stage in a video game.

Cradle 2 the Grave is so poor that the best thing about is Tom Arnold. Did you ever think you’d hear that? Cradle 2 the Grave wastes just about every reason for its own existence. This is the kind of movie someone who hates humanity would make. This is the kind of movie a zombie Hitler would have made. And I hear some of you saying, “But wait, there’s no way xenophobic Hitler would cast an African-American rapper and a Chinese martial artist in his movie.” Oh, that’s exactly what zombie Hitler would want you to think. Do you see how subversive it is now, do you?

Nate’s Grade: C-

Old School (2003)

There’’s something to be said for stupid comedies. Not necessarily the ones that are centered on large men getting hit in the head or crotch. Or films that climax with pie fights. Or any film where a wild animal plays some kind of pro sport. Or any film where Rob Schneider transforms into something and learns that life is indeed tough from a different perspective. As you can see, the stupid comedy has a very dubious history but when it succeeds at creating those hearty belly laughs, the kind where your face is sore afterwards from laughing so hard, few movies are as entertaining. Billy Madison is every bit as perfect in its humor as the more critically lauded comedies Rushmore and Raising Arizona. So then, is the crass college comedy Old School funny, stupid or both? It’’s safe to say its makers did their homework and admirable achieve an unrepentant uproarious stupid comedy.

Mitch (Luke Wilson) is a real estate numbers cruncher who catches an early flight home from a business retreat only to discover his girlfriend (Juliet Lewis) blindfolded and ready to engage in an orgy. Mitch moves into a house on a local campus with the help of his two friends, smooth talker Beanie (Vince Vaughn) and man-child Frank (Will Ferrell). The trio of thirty somethings comes up with the idea to start their own fraternity and relive their youth. Their rebellion from adulthood leads to wild parties, underage girls, KY Jelly wrestling, drunken streaking, birthday party tranquilizers, eulogies featuring White Snake songs and, of course, taking it to the man that just won’t let these kids have their fun.

Wilson is relegated to the role of the straight man, which means he pretty much gets to make faces at the antics of Ferrell and Vaughn. Wilson is the “nice guy” of the film, which in comedy terms means he’s the individual tortured by others. And in other terms, means he’s normally quite bland. Consider both checked with Wilson in Old School. Wilson is a very capable actor but he’’s more or less backdrop.

Ferrell is like instant comedy, just add water and he can make anything funnier. Much has been made of Kathy Bates strutting around in her 54-year-old birthday suit (which may have led to a Best Unsupported Actress nomination) but Ferrell equally jogs around jiggling his goods with glee. Ferrell is hysterical as the film’s biggest party animal. He takes everything to another level of comedy. Stick around during the end credits just to see him kick some woman’’s shopping cart. I’’m telling you this simple action is one of the funniest things in the movie.

Vaughn has made a career of playing fast-talking louts that would normally incite people with his caustic remarks if he weren’’t so damn charming. What happened to ole’ Vince and his oodles of sex appeal? Circa 1998 or so he was going to be Hollywood’s next leading man, especially after massive exposure from Spielberg’’s Lost World. Yes, starring in the very ill conceived remake of Psycho (now with masturbation at no extra charge!) was a bad career move but it shouldn’’t have been a killer. I mean, Anne Heche went on to other films after it and this was before she was communicating with aliens with her made up language. Hell, I’’m just kind of glad to see Vaughn in films again. His running gag with a bread maker is great.

The plot of Old School is really nothing more than a paper-thin device for the jokes to spring forth from. There are only stock characters in these kinds of films. There’s the nice girl (Ellen Pompeo) that will eventually get together with our protagonist in the end. There’’s her smug boyfriend played by the smug Craig Kilborn. Jeremy Piven is a stuffy dean trying to shut the boys down to settle old grudges with them.

The women of Old School are really left with nothing to do. Either they are there to have sex with the men or, when older, marry and control them. Lewis is the opposite of the good girl as the oversexed former flame of Wilson. Leah Remini has a very brief role as Vaughn’s wife who knows when to lead him by a chain. 24‘’s Elisha Cuthbert is a naughty schoolgirl that could get Wilson in trouble after one unexpected night. The ladies of this world are really tools for the guys, but what kind of feminist analysis is needed for a film that features Snoop Dog and not one, but two correspondents from The Daily Show?

Old School is from the director and co-writer of Road Trip, a crude yet very entertaining and lively comedy. Old School is kind of a big brother companion to Road Trip, and while not rising to the level of Animal House (as every college comedy wishes to be now) the film is indeed a pristine example of a gloriously stupid comedy aided by a very game cast. See it and be prepared to laugh a few pounds off.

Nate’s Grade: B

Daredevil (2003)

Not as bad as it could have been. That’s the best way to sum up Ben Affleck in tights.

Nate’s Grade: B-

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003)

Andie Anderson (Kate Hudson) is a fashion magazine writer with the juiciest column of her up and coming career. She will catch herself a man then torture him for ten days by subjecting him to mistakes women make in relationships (calling too much, tampons in the medicine cabinet, asking if you look fat). Benjamin Barry (Mathew McConaughey) is a hotshot ad exec convinced he can make any girl fall in love with him. His confidant colleagues put him to the test and select a girl he has ten days to fall in love with him. Any guesses which lucky lady gets picked?

Hudson and McConaughey have a weirdly effective chemistry that seems to grow on you as the film continues. The over animated and cutesy antics of Hudson gel nicely with McConaughey’s sly charm and syrupy drawl. Their battle of the sexes doesn’t really reach the simmer and zip of classic screwball comedies but the journey along the way to the predictable coupling is rife with healthy gender-crossing doses of humor.

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days plays its proceedings very close to the chest, following the well-worn path of romantic comedies that have come before. I guess it’s what to be expected when the source material is a picture book. Seriously, look into it. The movie even ends with the Man running against time to stop the Woman leaving on some vehicle set to a moderately upbeat, Top 40 pop song. Yes, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days has its formula down: initial clashing and trashing leads to lip mashing that’s just smashing. This is the kind of film where they hold the leads apart as long as they can and then let ’em at each other.

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days is a decent date for you and your honey, especially if romantic comedies are really your bag. For me, the lack of surprises gave me much time to think and three things kept circulating in my brain: 1) Aren’t too many romantic comedies today built upon some premise of deceit? Isn’t this a bad idea to start a relationship?, and, 2) Does Mathew McConaughey always act this stoned?

Nate’s Grade: C+

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