The Art of War

It’s déjà vu all over again for Wesley Snipes as an innocent man on the run.   [R]

By: Kam Williams
   Usually when a plot gets lifted, the director doesn’t steal from one of his star’s own movies. So, as I watched The Art of War unfold, I kept asking myself where I’d seen this very familiar story. An undercover agent, framed for the killing of a Chinese ambassador, trying to clear his name while on the run. Was it Bruce Willis’ The Jackal? Keenan Ivory Wayans’ Most Wanted? George Clooney’s The Peacemaker? Sean Connery’s Entrapment? Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible?
   And then it hit me. The Art of War is a carbon copy of Wesley Snipes’ own US Marshals, which was itself a veritable rehash of The Fugitive. French-Canadian director Christian Duguay, already slated for a spot at the helm of Terminator 3, is the culprit responsible for this cinematic boo-boo.
   There’s a big ‘I’ve been here before’ problem when the audience can remember the same actor pulling the same stunts in the same scene. I’ll give you an example. In both movies, right after he makes a spectacularly daring escape, Snipes smugly sits cross-legged in the lotus position atop a moving train as if to say, "Sayonara suckers!" And I wouldn’t be surprised if the idea originally came from Jackie Chan, an Asian actor, for whom the pose is at least culturally apropos.
   Problem number two: What isn’t lifted from US Marshals comes to us courtesy of the action-adventure cliché cookbook. Director Duguay, without an idea of his own, reheats a stale smorgasbord of familiar fight and chase sequences. And blame must be spread around a bit. Scriptwriter Wayne Beach (Murder at 1600) earned a share for inane plot twists that add up to a couple of hours of meaningless nonsense. The dismal cinematography gives the film a dim underwater tone, while a choppy editing job leaves each scene rushed or incomplete. Only an egregious disregard of elementary physics could explain the repeatedly implausible display of anti-gravity feats.
   You might be surprised to hear me admit that, despite all the flaws, I still have no problem recommending the film. A well-rehearsed Snipes is quite comfortable again as Shaw, a double-crossed spy unable to come in from the cold. And a superb supporting cast helped immeasurably. Donald Sutherland, veteran of over 100 films (Space Cowboys, The Dirty Dozen, JFK, Ordinary People, on and on…) appears as Douglas Thomas, the Secretary General of the United Nations. Oscar-nominee Anne Archer (for Fatal Attraction) makes the most of her limited role as Eleanor Hooks, Thomas’ assistant.
   In US Marshals, Wesley had a loyal love interest but no on-screen antics. This time, Wesley finds chemistry with Julia (Marie Matiko), the expendable eyewitness capable of clearing Shaw’s name. But the pair is simply too busy surviving ordeal after ordeal for sparks to fly, even though Julia, at one point, must strip naked to rid herself of a bug hidden somewhere in her apparel.
   The only woman Wesley gets to touch is dead, once again.
   Rated R for unrelenting pyrotechnics, profanity and gruesome killings.
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