Cradle 2 the Grave (review)

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Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting

Overheard at the concession stand:

“Hey, you got hip-hop gangsta movie in my kung-fu flick!”

“You got kung-fu flick in my hip-hop gangsta movie!”

Yes, kids, it’s two senselessly ultraviolent genres that are even more senselessly ultraviolent together! For ass-kicking, jaw-breaking, stuff- blowing- up, orgiastic and orgasmic brutality and mayhem, this is a combination that can’t be beat. It can be beat off to, though, since it’s got that hip-hop special sauce of a fine-looking ho doin’ a striptease and wagglin’ her ass right in the camera.

If we want to strain in looking for progressiveness here, it can be found. Rapper DMX is kinda a bad-guy MacGyver who refuses to use guns (though fists and feet are fine) and doesn’t demean himself by knocking over liquor stores and shouting obscenities at their Asian owners — no, he knocks over diamond exchanges in clever cat-burglar ways. And the fact that he’s after some notorious and extremely valuable black diamonds — though he likes the cracker diamonds just fine, too — is surely some sort of commentary on something or some kind of smackdown at someone.

DMX’s preciously, squeezably adorable 8-year-old daughter is a budding Junior MacGyver, too, which she’ll get to demonstrate about five minutes after she’s introduced to us and offered as evidence of DMX’s inherent niceness even though he’s a badass gangsta hip-hop man of the streets, yo. Because of course the bad guys kidnap her to get DMX to do what they want him to do, and the precocious little miss turns out to be too clever for them by half.

Oh, and DMX’s bitch, Gabrielle Union (Deliver Us from Eva, Abandon), is actually no longer a ho — she’s retired from that line of work. You go, girl.

Here’s where it starts getting all crosscultural and multinational on our asses. The bad guy is Mark Dacascos (Brotherhood of the Wolf), who’s one of those gorgeous transethnic people — he’s Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Spanish, and Irish — who can substitute for just about any non-pasty-white type imaginable. With a character name like Ling and the fact that he’s hanging with Kelly Hu and some nerdy Asian computer geek guy, I guess he’s supposed to be Asian himself, but this is L.A., so who can tell? I mean, I have friends outside my ethnicity and I’m not even a major criminal, so why couldn’t Dacascos?

I ask because the good guys — or at least the less-bad guys — led by DMX are forced to integrate to solve the Scooby Doo mystery of Who Wants the Black Diamonds and Who Stole the Adorable Little Bad-Ass MacGyver Girl? Jet Li (Lethal Weapon 4) insinuates his way into DMX’s merry band, because he can and because how can you say no to a man who can beat you up with one hand casually in his pants pocket, probably counting up his loose change by feel and wondering if its enough to get him a mocha frap once you’re unconscious?

It’s great that senselessly ultraviolent movies are getting a social awareness of the beautiful rainbow of our society. Here we get not only a Wacky Fat Black Guy, played by Anthony Anderson (Kangaroo Jack, Barbershop), but also a Wacky Fat White Guy, played, of course, by Tom Arnold (McHale’s Navy). And they coexist peacefully here. Or as peacefully as can be when A1-tank fire lights up the neighborhood and causes helicopters to explode.

So good on Cradle 2 the Grave, for even though its title bears no relation whatsoever to the action onscreen, it leads us to unexpected discoveries, from a sociological perspective. Like how even in a hip-hop gangsta film with a little kung-fu flavoring — or is it a kung-fu film with a little hip-hop gangsta flavoring? — the bad guys still line up to attack the hero one at a time, thereby allowing him a full and fair opportunity to kick all their asses. It’s kinda like how when you go to Europe they also have Colgate and Cocoa Puffs in the supermarket — things are different but not all that different.

We’re all human, after all, aren’t we? If you prick us, do we not all bleed? And if you empty a machine gun clip into our guts, do we not all keel over and stare glassy-eyed and sightlessly into the camera, while a single trickle of blood glistens and then drips across our foreheads?

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