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The Art of War

Destroying Filmgoers From the Inside

By Erik Blankinship

Staff Writer

Directed by Christian Duguay

Story by Wayne Beach

Screenplay by Wayne Beach and Simon Barry

Starring Wesley Snipes, Anne Archer, Maury Chaykin, Marie Matiko, Cary Hiroyuki, Michael Biehn, and Donald Sutherland

England has James Bond. America has Remo Williams. The United Nations has Neil Shaw. Working in a clandestine special missions group within the U.N., Shaw (Wesley Snipes) is a covert action man equipped with the best hi-tech espionage gear. In Warner Bros.’s latest release The Art of War, Shaw’s missions are centered around troubled trade negotiations between China and Korea. The Secretary General of the U.N., pathetically played by half-asleep Donald Sutherland, agrees to deploy Snipes to blackmail the parties into cooperating with the U.N.

Of course, things go awry, leaving the U.N. and Shaw to scramble. In an unintended funnier moment of the film, the U.N. sizes up its situation and comments, “[they’re using] blackmail ... that sounds like one of our tactics” (black male, get it?).

Given China as the antagonist, racial tensions and cultural conflicts run throughout the film, but they are not handled with any finesse. Lines like, “I don’t need a fortune cookie to tell me what’s going on” are gratuitous. So is helping the audience figure out who is Chinese by conveniently tattooing many of them with Asian pictographs. Another Asiaphobic film also starring Snipes, Rising Sun, picked Japan as the “other” culture that is explored by a street-smart American detective who flirts with an Asian chick. It seems that Snipes and his agent are angling to dominate this niche market.

Action-adventure films presume a certain suspension of disbelief, but this film takes too many liberties. The most annoying scene comes at the end of the film when the U.N. becomes an automized House of Usher, complete with escalators coming to life, elevators opening on their own accord, and doors locking automatically.

The camera in this film never rests; kinetic crane shots are intercut with zoom-ins and zoom-outs throughout the film. Never dizzying or nauseating like the hand-held work of The Blair Witch Project, the film looks more like a Janet Jackson music video. If only it were that good; the soundtrack is uninspired techno that does nothing to pump up the audience of an action film.

The final fight scene is styled À la The Matrix, including slow motion bullets hovering through the air and black trench coats. Nothing original here, but it is at least entertaining to watch.