The Art of War

The concept of Wesley Snipes as action hero is not working. It has not worked for a while, but Snipes still goes at it at every chance. Snipes fares much better when he actually acts, although sometimes that can be shaky. Mix in a little bit of Rising Sun (the movie Snipes ruined) and a little bit of U.S. Marshals and the result is The Art of War, a hokey action thriller. If he's not careful, he will soon take the path of Steven Seagal, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and all other martial arts action stars reduced to direct-to-video movies.

Sun Tzu wrote The Art of War thousands of years ago in China as a manual on warfare. Although it tries, the movie has little to do with the principles in the book. Snipes (Blade, Down in the Delta) is Shaw, a secret agent working for the United Nations. He defuses volatile situations in the background, oblivious to the public. This time, someone framed him. Somebody assassinated the Chinese Ambassador. Shaw tried to catch the culprit, but he/she escaped and the cops caught Shaw. Julia (Marie Matiko, The Corruptor, Mystery Men) knows he is innocent. She is a UN translator, and saw him chasing the murderer. Because of this, whoever framed Shaw is also after her. So Shaw must try to avoid capture and figure out who the assassin is at the same time.

The sequences are moderately thrilling and the martial arts are neat, but everything is lost in Simon Davis Barry and Wayne Beach's (Murder at 1600) convoluted script. The basic gist is that China is on the brink of opening diplomatic and economic ties to the rest of the world, and some people are not too happy about it. In the end, it is still not clear what the actual assassins were trying to accomplish. The conspiracy aspects of the story go too far, beyond the plausible and into the corny. It takes director Christian Duguay (The Assignment, Screamers) a long time to get this across to viewers. Don't try to read too much into the script: all the intrigue falls apart under close scrutiny. Why doesn't Shaw just go to his superiors and clear everything up? Why are smart people acting so stupidly? Oh yeah, this is an action movie. Oddly enough, the story, including some key plot twists, almost exactly mirror a plot from The Batman Adventures cartoon a couple years ago. There was more tension and character development in that two part episode (remember, the one where they introduce Batgirl?) than in this entire movie.

Also notable is the complete waste of two veteran Asian character actors, Sam Hong and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. Both Hong and Tagawa are instantly recognizable, since they do so much work in both movies and television. Hong's role is explainable since he dies. Tagawa has a much higher profile in the movie, but he doesn't really do much at all. The same goes for Matiko. She basically pouts and complains at first, before all of a sudden becoming Shaw's trusted advisor. This leaves much of the movie in Snipes' hands. Unfortunately, Shaw is terse and somewhat of a jerk, especially towards Julia. So the audience is left to basically wonder what is going on before Duguay can spell it out for everyone, and even then it doesn't make sense. Snipes can jump off buildings and shoot all he wants, but without anything going on between the ears of people watching, The Art of War falls flat on its face.

Haro Rates It: Pretty Bad.
1 hour, 57 minutes, Rated R for strong violence, some sexuality, language, and brief drug content.

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