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Reviews by Dr. Frank Swietek   

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ROMEO MUST DIE 
C+ 
Producer  Joel Silver and Jim Van Wyck 
Director  Andrzej Bartkowiak 
Writer  Eric Bernt and John Jarrell 
Starring Jet Li  Aaliyah  Isaiah Washington  Russell Wong  DMX 
Delroy Lindo  D.B. Woodside  Anthony Anderson  Henry O 
Studio  Warner Bros. 
Review  Slick, sassy, and boasting lots of the colorfully violent
action viewers have come to expect of Joel Silver productions,
"Romeo Must Die" is a cheerfully tawdry twist on the star-
crossed-lovers motif and a solid American lead debut for Hong
Kong martial-arts maestro Jet Li. Its unfortunate that so
much of the running-time has been given over to the plodding
plot about a war between two gangs--one African-American, the
other Chinese--over some waterfront property being hawked as
a site for an NFL stadium (a conflict which leads to the deaths
of some family members and the unlikely romance between an ex-
Hong Kong cop and a black godfather's daughter); but one can
forgive a good deal of the tedium to savor the periodic
punch-fests so artfully concocted by Andrzej Bartokowiak and
beautifully executed by, most notably, Li and Russell Wong.

The sporadic pizzazz of these balletic fisticuffs, unhappily,
can't entirely compensate for a pedestrian storyline that's
entirely too predictable (in terms of the identity of the
ultimate villains) and pacing of the intervening expository
sequences that drags the picture out to an unconscionable full
two hours. One gets what the producers were after here: a
picture that's one third romance, one third chopsocky action,
and one-third hip-hoppy gangsta noir. But the love story
never really takes off (the relationship between Li and
songstress Aaliyah never progresses beyond the wet-eyes and
soulful-stares stage), and the African-American stuff, which
concentrates on gang leader Delroy Lindo trying to go legit
and smooth Isaiah Washington as his chief lieutenant, tries
too hard for emotional resonance while wasting an excessive
amount of time on the supposedly comic exertions of Anthony
Anderson as a distinctly boobish member of the crew who's
repeatedly bested by Li. (This portion of the movie also
results in a good portion of the running-time being accompanied
by a series of ghastly rap numbers; the one which runs beneath
the titles is so awful--just a succession of obscenities--that
it takes some time for the picture to recover from the
onslaught.)

But then there are the stunt-filled action sequences, which are
sufficiently inventive to perk one up every time. Li amazes
in an opening jailbreak, outdoes Jackie Chan in a humorous
football set-piece, and does a great final confrontation with
Wong. Interspersed are a pretty nifty car-and-motorcycle
chase and a couple of well-choreographed fights between our
hero and Anderson's crew. (On the other hand, an elaborate
scene in which Li uses Aaliyah as a confederate in order to
avoid fighting a lethal female directly doesn't work, largely
because of the singer's stiffness in battle.) One must also
note that Li's English seems better than that of other Hong
Kong stars to have tried to make the transition to American
copies of eastern actioners, something which bodes well for his
future on these shores.

So if you can overlook the clunky plot conventions of "Romeo
Must Die" (a title which is unfortunately explained in a few
risible lines of dialogue toward the close) and just savor the
great action moments, you should have a reasonably good time
(much better, at any rate, than you were likely to have at
either "The Replacement Killers" or "The Corruptor," the two,
far less successful, attempts to do Hollywood variants of the
Hong Kong formula with Chow Yun-Fat). It's just a pity that
the airy grace of Jet Li has to be showcased in a movie that,
apart from his acrobatic contributions, is so sadly flatfooted
and resolutely earthbound.
 

 

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