By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
By Claire Lawton
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Anna Merlan
Li, who apparently wasn't able to speak English very well when he did Lethal Weapon 4, has since picked it up quickly. Judging by his delivery here, he'd make a more convincing American than a certain Austrian muscleman or Belgian kickboxer. And his strengths are played to a little by having him perform a number of key emotional scenes with the Chinese in his native tongue, subtitled. Not that the dialogue actually, you know, matters, but it helps him get to a level of emotional truth that the mere act of breaking stuff alone wouldn't achieve. And speaking of breaking stuff: When will gangsters ever learn not to rely so heavily on glass furniture? Or those large windowpanes that just happen to be stored among the crates in that big warehouse on the waterfront?
As the costar, Aaliyah makes a capable acting debut, although she has about one too many scenes that seem calculated to prove that she can cry on cue. Ability appreciated, but we don't need it here. Less crying, less talking, more kicking, if you please. With Li's help, she actually proves fairly adept at that last one in a scene in which they must fight a female assassin and Li tells her that he can't hit a woman. The solution? Manipulate Aaliyah like a kung-fu puppet, in an elaborate dance that naturally ends in disaster for the assailant. Those expecting much of a romance (i.e., the date that you drag to this film) may be disappointed: In spite of the title, which seemingly references Romeo and Juliet (since none of the characters herein is named or even nicknamed "Romeo"), this is Hollywood, and we still don't do interracial kisses unless it's an art-house flick. And it's probably not too much of a spoiler to say that neither principal commits suicide in the end.
Veteran cinematographer Andrzej Bartkowiak (The Verdict, Speed) makes an impressive feature directing debut, although producer Silver was undoubtedly in control the entire time. The one misstep, however, is the excessive number of quick cuts during many of the martial arts scenes. Li is fast enough that it becomes difficult to follow the action if the camera and editing are being maneuvered with equal speed. Thankfully, the final battle is more simply shot, even featuring occasional use of slo-mo, which is an asset rather than a cliché when dealing with a high-speed hero like the aptly named Jet Li. Will this movie make him a Hollywood star? It's hard to say. But as a solo showcase and a better-than-average actioner, it stands a better chance than either Rush Hour or The Corruptor did for their respective Eastern leads.
Screenplay by Eric Bernt and John Jarrell
Starring Jet Li, Aaliyah, Delroy Lindo, Russell Wong, Isaiah Washington, DMX, and Anthony Anderson
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