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Art of War
2000 - R - NA Mins.
Director: Christian Duguay
Producer: Nicolas Clermont
Written By: Wayne Beach, Kevin Bernhardt, Simon Davis Barry
Starring: Wesley Snipes, Anne Archer, Maury Chaykin, Marie Matiko, Michael Biehn
Review by: David Trier
   
Completely devoid of art and not really having anything to do with war, this fascinatingly mediocre action movie teaches us one important lesson - an inflated budget and a few name actors does not a movie make. In fact, without the actors and the expensive sets, this movie would demand direct-to-video status.

This is usually the part where I summarize the film to give readers an idea of what the movie was about and what I'm talking about when I criticize the plot. After having seen the film, and reading every explanation of the plot that I could find on the Internet, I still can't figure out what this movie was about. Apparently, as a trade agreement with China, is about to go through, someone assassinates the Chinese ambassador and frames the United Nations' secret spy, Shaw (Wesley Snipes). Shaw runs around with a hot U.N. translator (Marie Matiko), keeping her hostage for her own protection, as people keep trying to blow him up. Meanwhile, Agent Capella, an aging overweight detective (or whatever) tries to figure out why a cargo of dead Chinese people showed up at New York Harbor. This has something to do with the rest of the movie, until we find out that Shaw was being set up by his boss (Anne Archer) and his evil partner (Michael Biehn). Do you know who your enemy is? Yes, I knew about 20 minutes into the film. Oh yeah, Donald Sutherland plays the U.N. Secretary General, and somehow this is relevant.

Snipes revives (or rather, redoes) his roles from Passenger 57 and Drop Zone while Michael Biehn recaps his roles from The Abyss and Navy Seals. There's no disputing the fact that Snipes is an excellent martial artist, and he gets to show off some pretty impressive moves throughout the film (not the least of which is having a bulletproof head). I like to think that Snipes is a good actor that just chooses to play uninteresting, unemotional, unappealing parts because he has a lot of money and they're loads of fun. Hopefully, before he goes Billy Blanks, he'll get a chance to do more than stunts. Anne Archer seems to be a bit embarrassed to be in this film. Casting a woman in the part was mildly original, but the things she says and the extent of her evil make her seem way too much like The Joker. Donald Sutherland, one of the great infallibles, plays his part as expected but really isn't used as much as he should be in the film. The movie really only has two things in it that are positive, and they are Marie Makito and Maury Chaykin. Makito, in her first leading role, is sharp, beautiful, and completely demanding of attention on the screen. Chaykin, a veteran and a half, plays a mild-mannered, crusty old detective so well he deserves his own Columbo-style series.

Christian Duguay is a good director. The awesome sci-fi paranoia flick Screamers and the stylish, well-constructed The Assignment made me so anxious to see this movie. Maybe it was Snipes' co-production coupled with Wayne Beach's sorry screenplay that kept Duguay from doing his best. Or maybe Duguay was getting a little too comfortable with a big budget. The action sequences are all overstimulating, with too many variables involved to know where you're expected to be looking. The sets are all very elaborate, with the exception of an obvious studio construction of a French street at the end, which probably cost more than flying the cast and crew to France itself. The music is too loud and not incidental to the scene almost without exception.

The probably unintended racism throughout the film is ridiculous. All Asian males are bad guys who know martial arts (unless they're fat) and have sex with underage prostitutes, with the possible exception of the ambassador who gets shot in the head. And why not close with the funniest racist aspect of this awful movie: Shaw, a secret spy who's intended to blend into any situation without being noticed, is the most easily identifiable character in any scene... he's the black guy.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better. Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better.
  2 out of 5 stars

 
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