“There are five kinds of spy: The local spy, the inside spy, the reverse spy, the dead spy, and the living spy ...” —Sun Tzu, The Art of War
In The Art of War, Wesley Snipes (Blade) is a spy: a local spy, as his urban rap betrays in his rare unguarded moments; an inside spy, the key operative in a team of moles within the United Nations; a reverse spy, crossing lines and switching sides when betrayed. Most of all, he’s a living spy working very, very hard not to be a dead spy. Intriguing? Possibly, but in the hackneyed hands of director Christian Duguay (TV’s “Joan of Arc”) intrigue and suspense — especially the suspension of disbelief — become impossible missions.
In many ways, War is like a cheap theme park ride through “The Greatest Hits of the ’90s Action Movie.” Snipes makes a habit of gravity-defying leaps across city rooftops. He crashes through skylights, miraculously unscathed. He splashes across clichéd, rain-glazed urban asphalt. It all looks as derivative as it sounds. And it doesn’t stop there.
Have you seen the first Mission: Impossible (1996)? Did you read the romantic subplot between the lines of The Replacement Killers (1998)? Twist up the intrigue of one and the romance of the other, cobble the two together and you have the basic plot of The Art of War.
There’s only one compelling reason to see The Art of War: a critical jones for Snipes that can’t wait for next year’s Blade 2. He has all the prerequisites to earn him the same level of action stardom as a Schwarzenegger or a Cruise. But his chiseled, African-mask handsomeness, streetwise athleticism and martial arts skills are not enough. Snipes needs a matching A-list director such as T2’s James Cameron or M:I 2’s John Woo to reveal his complete potential as a Hollywood hero.
Sun Tzu says in the original The Art of War, “One cannot use spies without sagacity and knowledge, one cannot use spies without humanity and justice. ...” The same goes for action stars. Duguay should’ve taken notes.
James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.