Romeo Must Die

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It’s East meets West as slick, gun-totin’, black underground businessmen battle it out with their Japanese counterparts who use their bodies as weapons in the new action flick, Romeo Must Die.

Normally, one would expect the guns to win out, but that would make for a quick and boring film. Instead, filmmaker Andrzej Bartkowiak, who unfortunately brought us Lethal Weapon 4, uses martial arts for all they’re worth.

With the name Romeo in the title, there’s some connection with the literary classic. As Asian and African-American gangs attempt to gain control of the California waterfront, potential lovers from either side join forces to bring an end to the murdering madness that claims the lives of their respective siblings. Soon both Han (Jet Li) and Trish (Aaliyah) realize there’s as much of a battle going on within family as without.

Despite the star power provided by music sensation Aaliyah and the talent of critically acclaimed actor Delroy Lindo, who plays her father, the real star of Romeo is the action. With a predictable plot and clichéd characters, Bartkowiak is clearly aiming to attract hip-hop fans as well as Asian action addicts; and the movie does deliver some dazzling action sequences. But as for depth of characters, plot and a modern-day spin on the love story subplot, Shakespeare has nothing to worry about. This Romeo is neither captivating nor tragic, and the star-crossed lovers exchange only innocent glances and hugs, not stirring dialogue.

Li, who had a supporting role in Lethal Weapon 4, is perplexingly bumped up to leading man status in Romeo. Although he is cute, charming and a whiz at the martial arts, that may not be enough to compensate for a lack of stature and the screen presence usually necessary to carry the mantle of "action hero."

For those approaching Romeo with low expectations for story, substance and mildly entertaining action, proceed with caution.

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