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Cradle 2 the Grave

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Jan
Cradle 2 the Grave
from Film Forum, 03/06/03

In director Andrzej Batkowiak's new action film Cradle 2 the Grave (Warner Brothers), a jewel thief (Earl "DMX" Simmons) gets in2 serious trouble when his latest diamond heist goes wrong and his daughter is kidnapped. This God-fearing crook reluctantly agrees 2 help a Taiwanese government agent (Jet Li) track the kidnappers in hopes of saving the girl's life.

The action-packed Cradle topped the box office this week, in spite of reviewers' attempts 2 send it 2 a box office grave. (Okay. Enough.)

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) describes the film as "all style and no substance … immediately entertaining but ultimately disappointing. There's even a vain attempt at relevance by making superthief DMX a religious man whose love for his daughter borders on the divine. Sorry, but praying to angels to keep one's daughter safe while engaging in criminal activity that puts her in harm's way seems … hypocritical. The makers … try to cater to both sides of man—the sinner and the saint. In doing so, they give nothing of value to either."

Gerri Pare (Catholic News Service) declares, "For all its headache-inducing sound and fury with vicious violence, Cradle … deserves to be buried, the sooner the better."

Pare agrees that the religiosity of the thief makes little sense: "The fact that Tony eagerly steals [is] … downplayed. His tenderness seems to suggest he's really a good guy just trying to make a living, and once his daughter is snatched his determination to rescue her practically puts him in heroic territory."

Shaun Daugherty (Preview) declares, "Any self-respecting person will avoid this film at all costs!"

But conservative critic Michael Medved has a different view: "Cradle … so far exceeds all reasonable expectations that it certainly commands praise. [DMX] could probably handle the sort of substantive assignments most regularly reserved for the likes of Denzel Washington and Cuba Gooding Jr. [The film has] irresistible visual flair … the action scenes unfold with perfect pacing and unexpected immediacy."

Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), is not so impressed: "The film itself is on autopilot and overdrive at the same time: It does nothing original, but does it very rapidly. I can see that this movie fills a need. I have stopped feeling the need. The problem with action movies is how quickly state-of-the-art becomes off-the-shelf. We yearn for wit and intelligence, and a movie like Shanghai Knights looks sophisticated by comparison."

Another Chicago critic, Robert K. Elder (Chicago Tribune) says, "Most poor-quality cinema simply wastes your time and money, but [this movie] seems to go out of its way to insult your intelligence and social sensibilities. Storytelling like this makes most video game plots look like Moby Dick."

from Film Forum, 03/13/03

You can find Christian film critics shouting in dismay about film immorality any day of the week. Mainstream film critic Lawrence Toppman (Charlotte Observer) took a similar stand this week for discernment by chiding a parent who brought a young child to see the R-rated Cradle 2 the Grave.

He writes, "Your daughter seemed to be about 8 years old, with her white dress and her hair done up in braids. I wonder what she thought when the people in this R-rated movie kidnapped a little girl about her age, duct-taped her mouth shut, and shoved her into a van, planning to kill her later. Of course, you can take comfort in the fact that you weren't alone: I saw more than a dozen kids her age around the theater, all soaking up images that were meant for people about a decade older."

It is heartening to see a mainstream critic who recognizes the important role of parents in the moviegoing experience of young people. Religious press publications devote a lot of time and space attacking that vague body called Hollywood and accusing it of all manner of subversive conspiracies. But Hollywood is a business, providing what sells. Sure, the sellers have moral responsibilities, but so do viewers. If conscientious critics spent as much time teaching viewers how to look at art and how to develop discernment, perhaps Hollywood garbage would not be quite so bankable. And if more parents invested themselves in introducing their children to well-told stories and well-made movies, fewer children would develop appetites for garbage.

Does that mean a good moviegoer should set an example by never viewing movies that portray the world's darker realities? No. From Scripture to Shakespeare to Spielberg, important works from any time and culture have dealt with life's darker side. But surely we can learn to discern how ugly and immoral behavior can be portrayed responsibly, in a context that helps us recognize good from evil in our daily lives. If we can't learn to examine and understand evil at the movies, how can we deal with it in the muddy real world? The more we learn to think carefully about such things in art, the more we will develop a sense of which works are appropriate for young and untrained eyes, and which should be 'restricted' for viewers who are mature in more than just their age. The strongest viewers will even learn to recognize their own particular limits and weaknesses, and act accordingly.

Elsewhere, Loren Eaton (Focus on the Family) caught up with the movie in question. Like most religious press critics argued last week, Eaton writes, "Cradle 2 the Grave … unloads buckets of obscenity, shovelfuls of gore and an awful instance of sexualized violence."

Eaton has harsher words for actor DMX: "There's no doubt that the presence of the ultra-popular, foul-mouthed DMX helped propel this film to the top of the box office opening weekend. Some parents might not be familiar with the career of Earl Simmons, a.k.a. Dark Man X, but their teens certainly are. DMX boasted on his last album, The Great Depression, "How many million did my last [record] sell? [Expletive], I'm goin' for 10. It's never gonna stop." Now his self-proclaimed "domination" is spreading to celluloid. Make sure your family members aren't citizens of his expanding entertainment kingdom."

In view of Eaton's words about DMX, it is interesting to note the latest news on the rapper/actor. MTV News reports that DMX has decided to retire from music and continue his acting career. But first, he declares, "I'm going into the church … I wanna take some time off—you know, read my Bible and just get more into the Word."