The Art of War (Review)

The Art of War

Wesley Snipes as Neil Shaw
Anne Archer as Eleanor Hooks
Maury Chaykin as Capella
Marie Matiko as Julia Fang
Michael Biehn as Robert Bly
Donald Sutherland as U.N. Secretary General Douglas Thomas

“Uniting valor as one is the way of command

When I first heard they were adapting Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, I was all “How are they gonna pull that off?” then it turned out that it was just a random action film. Random, except for Wesley Snipes! As Mr. Snipes has said before: “Always bet on black.”

Wesley Snipe’s Neil Shaw does not exist. The secret branch of the UN he works for does not exist. His team does not exist. This should be a better film than it is, but the better version does not exist. Instead, we get something that is almost a good action film, but falls just short of the mark, so short, in fact, that the closeness of the miss makes the movie so much worse than if they had just phoned it in.

Snipes starts out this romp running around China during the new years celebration for 2000. He uses lasers to read data off a computer, so he can blackmail a North Korean officer. His team also includes Michael Biehn, who is always welcome onscreen in my opinion. Snipes blackmails the officer to get a peace accord started again, but then has to kung fu his way out of the building, which he leaves by leaping off the side of the building via parachute. Finally a movie has a villain who shoots the parachute, and he also hits Snipes in the shoulder. But the day is saved, anyway, and we jump to six months later.

Secretary of the UN Donald Sutherland, from Canada, is worried about the accord and the upcoming free trade announcement from China. Head of the Secret Branch of the UN that doesn’t exist Anne Archer isn’t that worried. Snipes is called in to take care of business. First, he must defeat Michael Biehn in basketball. White men can’t jump, even ones who have fought the Terminator and Aliens. After this rap-scored battle, Snipes has managed to reinjure his shoulder. Street ball is one tough business. After getting patched up, Snipes gets his assignment, watch over the upcoming China free-trade announcement. Seems routine, but if that was true, we wouldn’t have a movie, now would we? First we must deal with a loading crate full of dead Chinese, which gets investigated by FBI agent Capella (Maury Chaykin).

Introduced to Julia Fang (Marie Matiko) we are as well, she’s a interpreter who will be playing our love interest of the film. First, though, we must have our assassination. Ambassador Wu is gunned down, and Evil Chinese businessman David Chan is also shot in the arm. Julia Fang’s interpreter friend is also hurt, and Snipes chases after the two gunmen. The chase is long, exciting, though the rain and through construction buildings. Biehn is also following via radio, and finds the gunmen first, and Snipes hears him shot over the radio. Snipes rushes to try to save him, but the police are waiting, guns drawn. Snipes has no choice but to surrender.

End of movie.

Wait, just kidding! Snipes is in the interrogation room, where Julia Fang tells FBI guy Capella that Snipes isn’t the killers. Capella still has to deliver Snipes to a new location, as Snipes has no record of existing and won’t talk. On the way, and exploding Horse and Buggy destroys the prisoner transport vehicle, and Capella is shot and Snipes taken by Triads. Capella lives, as he was bullet proof vest enabled. Snipes comes to in an SUV full of Triad thugs, but plays possum for a few minutes. He sees most of the phone number of the bosses of the Triads, and overhears the order given to kill him. It’s time to take a page out of the Art of War to show what Snipes should do here: “The morale of the armies can be dampened, and the sense for commanding battle arrays can be dampened.” Uh……maybe I should have picked a passage not at random. Oh, well, when Snipes kills all these idiots (with the unwitting help of a coke-snorting truck driver) I’m sure their morale is pretty low. Dead low.

Back in UN-land, the UN is being blackmailed to kill the trade deal. What’s the official drink of the UN? 7-up, as it’s the UN-cola! Ha! I kill me! If the UN doesn’t comply, the blackmailers will go to the press that Snipes, the killer, works for the UN in a secret agency. Meanwhile, the female agent who was on Snipe’s team has translated something the now dead Ambassador Wu said to evil businessman David Chan. She is then attacked by greasy Triad assassin man. Snipes arrives just then, because it’s a safehouse or something. Female Agent is killed, and Snipes kills Greasy Triad Assassin Man. Snipes also uses some psychic powers to see Female Agent get killed, or else he’s just visualizing what happened via the evidence. The former turns out to be more correct, as he will have weird visions throughout the rest of the film. The safehouse is also full of weapons, and Snipes gets a hold of the conversation Wu and Chan shared (but now untranslated) because Female Agent uploaded the .wav file to (actually, it’s, I went there, and it said “Directory Listing Denied”)

Julia Fang is talking to the press, saying Snipes is innocent. As her translator friend isn’t completely dead, she is going to visit her in the hospital, but a Killer Nurse appears to off Julia Fang. Snipes leaps out of the shadows (or our of the curtain divider separating the rooms. Why was Snipes playing Peeping Tom at the hospital?) and saves her. He doesn’t save her friend’s mom. So hopefully friend stays in her coma a while longer so she doesn’t wake up with her dead mother lying over her body. Though that would make a neat murder mystery.

Julia is kidnapped by Snipes, who forces her to come with him, so he can get her to translate the message. Wu is telling Chan he knows who killed the immigrants in the loading crate. Snipes talks to his boss via the internet and finds out there is a mole in the agency. Snipes and Julia stop by a diner, and he figures out there is a bomb in the restaurant via psychic voodoo. So he smashes the car into the restaurant, throws the bomb inside, and uses it to press the gas while the car is in reverse, and it drive into the street and explodes. Good thing he was right, because otherwise that would have looked pretty ridiculous. It still looks ridiculous, but now for different reasons. Snipes forces Julia into a new car, and makes her strip, as they are tracking them somehow and he’s convinced there is a transmitter in her clothes. The film fails to earn it’s R rating here, sadly.

They see video of Evil Businessman Chan looking at the area the bullets came from before he was shot, showing he knew. Snipes has also figured out where the phone number goes, it’s a club that sells sex slaves from China. Snipes arrives, but the club is also raided by the FBI at the same time, as FBI agent Capella is hot on the trail. Capella evens finds Julia, but Snipes says some smart remarks to him and goes off. Capella has already figured out Snipes is innocent, but Snipes won’t let him help. It’s all about the machismo. Snipes visits Evil Businessman Chan, who is killed by a Mysterious Man after a few seconds. If you haven’t figured out who this new guy is, you need to watch more movies. While Snipes chases this new guy, Julia Fang is telling Snipes’s boss Eleanor Hooks about how Chan knew about the killing. Boss says “So?” and the new guy is Michael Biehn. The conspiracy is revealed, though it wasn’t hidden very well. Now Julia is trapped in the UN building which is locked for the night and completely empty (not even night janitors at this point) and Snipes enlists Capella to help him save Julia. Biehn reveals that Snipes has a transmitter put in his injured shoulder, that’s why they know where he is.

When the control of forces approaches its zenith, evolve into imperceptible control

Eleanor Hooks is quoting Art of War at Julia, and later Biehn will quote it at Snipes. I can’t remember what they said, so I hope one of the random quotes I am putting up matches. If not, no big deal, as it doesn’t distract the story in the slightest. Biehn and Hooks are talking later, and we find out the whole setup is because Hooks is a neo-con who hates the UN, and this deal being killed would make it less useful, as well as screw over China. Biehn is only in it for the money and to beat Snipes. Now that we have the lame plot motivations out of the way (it would have been better had they not reveled why they were doing this) we can get to the final battle.

Snipes and Capella head to the UN building, where Biehn is going to kill Juila. Biehn sees Snipes enter, and locks the revolving door Snipes entered in with him inside. Then Biehn leisurely strolls down to kill him, all while mocking him on the PA. But it’s Capella in the door, not Snipes. Snipes and Biehn then have a fight by the elevators. This fight involves them running at each other, while shooting, emptying their entire clips, DODGING THE BULLETS, reloading while leaning against each other’s backs, firing at each other again, DODGING THE BULLETS AGAIN, injuries by floor shrapnel, damage to a glass anti-handgun sculpture, and Biehn being impaled by a giant shard of glass. For a second there, this movie turned into The Matrix, specifically the lobby scene. Julia is saved, and they walk off. Capella is still in the door.

Next day’s headlines read that Julia was raped and murdered by Snipes. Hooks is reading it, laughing, until she’s killed by the Triads. Snipes is then shot dead by the FBI, lead by Capella. Everyone is dead (except Capella) so the movie is over!

Whoops! Another trick, Julia is alive and well in Paris, and is quickly joined by Mr. Snipes, in his new identity. The final shot shows them getting their photo taken, showing they are being followed. As this movie won’t rate a sequel, just assume they wake up the next morning with their guts hanging out and die a painful death.

This movie should have been good. It had everything it needed to be good. Action sequences. Action stars. Explosions. Guns. Matrix-effects. Conspiracies. Double crosses. Kung Fu. Basketball. Hot babe. It all falls apart. The Art of War lists six reasons for defeat: desertion, laxity, paralysis, collapse, turbulence, and downfall. I will say that this movie had “downfall” because of Snipes parachuting. “Paralysis” because of the girl in the coma. “Desertion” because most of the villains stopped doing their jobs. Finally, “laxity” because this movie was sloppy, took to long, and didn’t come out connected. It felt more like a waste of time than an enjoyable action film. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how this movie failed, but it did. I wish I could be more specific, but it’s just not that good. Neither is this review, but just pretend I did this badly intentionally. Yeah, that’s the ticket!

Rated 4/10 (Tracker; Take them all off!; RELOADED; I think this is supposed to be ironic, or something…)

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