During one of the many street fights in Cradle 2 the Grave, a thug shoves a gun in the face of principled thief Tony Fait (DMX) and demands a trove of mysterious stolen gems. ”I’m a businessman,” Fait snaps indignantly. ”Make me a f—in’ offer!”
You don’t really believe that Fait’s going to die, of course. But the film makes it clear that this outraged appeal to protocol is the last card he has to play. DMX delivers the line with unironic fire, which is how he delivers every line in ”Cradle.” He’s not what you’d call a good actor – he’s not even what you’d call an actor – but under the tutelage of producer Joel Silver and director Andrzej Bartkowiak (who worked with the rapper on the tonally identical ”Romeo Must Die” and ”Exit Wounds”), he’s shaping himself into a genuinely appealing screen presence, a sort of gangsta-preneur samurai. With a code of honor and a kidnapped daughter, his Fait is as earnest and, yes, grave as the movie is pleasantly clichéd in its perfunctory but well-executed action sequences. (An all-terrain vehicle placed with Chekhovian precision outside a bordello will inevitably be used in an ”extreme” chase scene by the third act.)
Of course, there’s another samurai in ”Cradle”: Su (Jet Li), the one spook a meagerly populated country like Taiwan can spare to recover its superimportant government loot – the same precious gemstones, which are actually crystalline plutonium. In what’s almost a separate film, Li – refreshingly unfettered by the overdone computer effects that marred his performance in ”Romeo” – brutalizes enemy upon enemy with chill dispatch and increasingly baroque gore, weaponizing everything around him, from his jacket collar to an unlucky dwarf. He’s the aloof yin to DMX’s impassioned yang. By the time Li enters the obligatory ”ring of fire” to face his final opponent, you realize just how forthrightly rote and businesslike ”Cradle” is. And you don’t mind. Because business, it turns out, is good.