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IN SHORT: a big sprawl of an action flick [Rated R for strong violence, some sexuality, language and brief drug content. 117 minutes.]
Y'know how I've complained in the past about high tech action flicks with stories that are pretty much incomprehensible? We'd like to thank The Art of War screenwriters Wayne Beach and Simon Davis Barry for allowing star Wesley Snipes' character to explain everything to the audience, thus distracting us from nudging our neighbors every time one of the mammoth holes in logic popped up in the script. Those holes don't start to open for a good forty or so minutes, which means, simply, that the opening sequence of The Art of War absolutely rocks.
Beginning in Hong Kong, New Year's Eve 2000, we are privy to the most exclusive of parties. This one, thrown by the phenomenally wealthy businessman David Chan (Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa) is the talk of Hong Kong. The press are locked outside the doors and inside, a suave black man in a tuxedo jumps over the balcony rail to conduct some high tech information theft, the better to blackmail a pedophile North Korean military type. The camera doesn't stop moving. Colors and fireworks are flashing everywhere and Snipes gets to show off his high tech gadgets (including a pair of Buddy Holly style glasses featuring Ethan Hunt IMF technology) and martial arts chops, among other things. For he is part of a super secret United Nations covert operations team -- Secretary General Douglas Thomas (Donald Sutherland) can't disavow any knowledge of their actions because all knowledge stops with his right-hand man, Eleanor Hooks (Anne Archer).
What Hong Kong and the Korean political situation have to do with the cargo canister filled with dead Chinese found on the docks of New York City is quite beyond me -- even with two lines of explanation buried an hour later in the flick. That's just another clever writing/directing thing -- they bury the clues to the mystery so far down that only the purchase of the director's cut DVD with complete commentary will make the viewing experience complete. Investigating the deaths is pudgy FBI agent Frank Capella (Maury Chaykin) and although that crime has nothing to do with the assassination of the Chinese ambassador and the shooting of Chan at a UN celebration in New York, the FBI will put their nose anywhere -- especially when the suspect in the murders turns out to have high tech weaponry that'd make Tom Cruise proud.
That suspect, of course, is our favorite UN operative Neil Shaw (Wesley Snipes) who gets to play Dr. Richard Kimball for the rest of this flick as he must outrun the FBI, the Chinese mob, the NYPD and figure out the mystery while watching out for Julia Fang (Marie Matiko), the cute Chinese interpreter he's handcuffed to the wheel of a stolen car. Shaw also gets to figure out who's killed his teammates and the Chinese ambassador. And the illegal aliens in the canister, just for good measure. On top of all this, New York City, for more than 90% of the back end of this flick, is suffering a deluge of rain that would make Noah say "See? I told you so!"
Can we all say "collapses under its own weight?" I knew that you could.
If Snipes couldn't pull off the action and attitude, The Art of War could have been a total disaster. But he can and does. And even though I've spilled much more than I usually do, it won't bloody well matter. There are three action/chase sequences (including the opening) that are terrific. But, almost as if he knows that the story is incomprehensible, director Christian Duguay resorts to a healthy heaping of flashbacks, repeats of earlier sequences in black and white -- to make the point that they're flashbacks, just in case you can't figure that out -- and half a ton of distorted sound, dialog and audio effects.
Ok, let's try that phrase again: "Collapses under its own weight!"
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Art of War, he would have paid...
Wait and rent. Now go have a cookie.
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