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Friday September 8, 2000

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UA Survivor

Asinine 'Art of War' assaults audiences

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By Ian Caruth

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Snipes' new flick falls flat

Grade: F

One of the more popular trends in Hollywood over the last decade has been what is known as the "Nicolas Cage Plan" - after beginning their careers and winning acclaim in dramatic, often low-profile roles, these actors then proceed to what is fast becoming the next logical step: big-budget, stupid action movies.

After gaining critical kudos for roles in "Jungle Fever" and Michael Jackson's "Bad" video, Wesley Snipes has assumed a steady series of roles which require little nuance and character insight, substituting instead lots of running and jumping. One of the premier runners and jumpers in film, Snipes has pretty much abandoned any artistic aspirations for the big paychecks and bad one-liners of action flicks. Worse, he seems to have forgotten how to act - or at least, he just does not seem to even care.

Perhaps that is not such a bad thing. At least no one can say that Snipes is wasted in films like the bland "The Art Of War," a movie so perfunctory and dull that only its latent racism registers.

Taking place in a fantasy world where the United Nations is an organized, influential agency, the film concerns the impending passage of the Chinese Trade Agreement, a poorly explained pact that will apparently eliminate all human rights violations everywhere in China. Snipes plays a supercool agent employed by a secret branch of the UN for covert operations, who is assigned to ensure the agreement's passage by blackmailing various Bad Chinese Officials.

With no attempt to break from action movie stereotypes, Snipes' hero is a wisecracking but good-hearted loner considering retirement. When the Chinese ambassador to the UN is assassinated, Snipes is fingered for the crime and must prove himself innocent. With only his wits to guide him, without knowing who to trust, the hunter becomes the hunted, and a deadly game of cat and mouse ensues... anyone who has been at least semi-conscious during an action movie can guess where the film goes next.

Viewers' patience is tested as every lame action movie clichˇ is trotted out during the film's too-long 117-minute running time, including a rookie cop vomiting at a grisly crime scene and the required-by-law scene in a strip club.

Directed in an emptily stylish manner by Christian Duguay ("Scanners 3: the Takeover"), with some distracting prejudicial diatribes against the Chinese, the film really has nothing to redeem it. The film was developed as a star vehicle for Hong Kong action god Jet Li, whose spectacular martial arts skills would have elevated the action scenes, and his presence would probably have reined in the racist overtones. As it was made, however, "The Art of War" is just dull and offensive.

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