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Despite the fact that the action-ready clichés “Know Your Enemy” and “Trust No One” comprise the taglines for the third installment-- dubbed Retribution in The Art of War franchise—this time around it takes our main character approximately 78 of the film’s 88 minute running time to put these phrases to good use.
Since it’s the second direct-to-disc feature following the 2000 theatrical bow of the original movie, our hero’s lack of putting two and two together is a bit easier to forgive but when you realize that it’s not a man-about-town who stumbles onto an international conspiracy but a governmental operative, we’d have hoped his radar would’ve been more finely tuned.
And this is especially a problem since the film’s covert Special Agent Neil Shaw lives to cite Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, which is something of a narrative gimmick to have him spout philosophical quotations in an attempt to give the film’s generous helping of ass-kicking more intellectuality. However, unfortunately it just feels cheesy in a set-up so obvious that we’re able to guess whom our double-crosser is the second they appear onscreen.
Not to mention the fact that, although The Art of War pictures were never on par with The Bourne Identity movies, the one lesson you’ll no doubt take away from this time-waster is when it comes to War, always bet on Passenger 57.
Er... I mean, the man who so memorably joked to “always bet on black” in not just Passenger 57 but the first two Wars—Wesley Snipes—who may be the last person you’d want to cast as an accountant or collections agent given the man’s highly publicized tax scandal but always manages to make even the cheesiest action films entertaining. And this he routinely does a la Van Damme, Seagal, and others who have perfected the art of the roundhouse kick, judo chop, and somehow make shooting two guns at the same time look as easy as washing a car.
However, Treach a.k.a. Anthony 'Treach' Criss and Sung Hi Lee will reach their built in audiences via the hip hop smash group Naughty by Nature and Playboy Magazine respectively. And they do try their best with Treach filling in as Shaw and Lee as the underwritten seductive weapons exchange facilitator who gets caught in the crossfire to the point that Shaw brings her into his covert operation. Yes, I know, when you reread that sentence one more time and focus on the word "covert," I think you'll agree that all logic is quickly thrown out the window aside from the fact that it's a movie and movies simply need the requisite "hot chick."
Adding to the inconsistencies, we’re presented with a nuclear bomb threat, a red scare, a possible alliance with North Korea and Russia, and the obligatory shootout in a Korean brothel along with a scene wherein Shaw has seemingly no difficulties making his way into the United Nations Peace Summit as the necessary props required by all throughout the film appear out of thin air.
When you couple this with a “Scooby-Doo” ending wherein our villain is inevitably unmasked, like an action movie stereotype, people get awfully chatty as they explain the whole thing mostly for the benefit of Shaw since apparently he’s the only one who hadn’t been paying attention for the entire film.
Likewise, this scene—similar to several others—has been spliced together with rapid cuts and fast zooms complete with an audibly cheesy WHOOSH sound that is intended, I think, to cue us that something has finally clicked in our hero’s brain. And as I'm pretty sure most editors will agree, this is never a good sign as I began waiting for animated clouds to appear with thought bubbles as well (maybe more Sun Tzu?).
Although it was filmed with crisp cinematography, again the major disservice was completed in the editing room. Another example of this was in the decision to insert endless jump-cuts for no reason as in a scene wherein Treach and Lee walk down the hall which is cut about four times jumping them forward pointlessly a little more each way making me wonder why they didn’t just cut directly to the room or do possibly one jump instead of aiming for the Guy Ritchie vibe throughout. This approach was particularly maddening during the fights as—possibly to hide some of the performers’ lack of skills—we seldom see full shots of actors following through on moves in a complicated choreographed sequence.
And despite the fact that a majority of the film takes place in a warehouse, a van, a hotel room, etc. for budget sake, overall the clarity of the picture is impressive for a straight-to-disc feature. Yet it’s nonetheless one that’s additionally bogged down by an unconvincing performance by Treach who never seems to command the screen or convey he’s an operative. However, once again he was granted no favors via the awkward dialogue from the screenplay that's comprised of jokes such as “Blackman and Robin at it again."
Overall, unfortunately, minus Snipes, a good screenplay and an edit done without an overdose of Red Bull-- basically you're left with one bad B-movie that would’ve played better as a higher quality Spike TV Movie for Guys presentation. However, again, may I suggest that in place of War, you can always bet on Passenger 57?
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