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Meager 'Bait' for a Sly Foxx

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 15, 2000


    'Bait' Jamie Foxx in "Bait." (George Kraychyk/Warner Bros.)
The best thing to say about "Bait" is that Jamie Foxx is emerging as one funny guy. The movie, a serviceable action-comedy directed with creative energy by Antoine Fuqua, isn't much to write home about. But thanks to Foxx's mischievous talent, it's much better than it deserves to be. Foxx plays Alvin Sanders, a sort of recovering loser, who gets caught up in a Machiavellian scheme way over his head. Hauled into jail for trying to steal a big supply of prawns-they're much bigger than shrimp, as he explains to everyone-Alvin finds himself sharing a cell with professional criminal John Jaster (Robert Pastorelli).

Fearing his weak heart won't survive the physical interrogation he's about to get from U.S. Treasury investigator Clenteen (David Morse), Jaster gives Alvin a coded message to pass on to Mrs. Jaster. Seems there's a stash of hidden gold somewhere. Jaster's clues for his wife: "The Bronx Zoo" and "There's no place like home."

Jaster's fears are right. Which leaves Clenteen, a nasty but savvy investigator, to find the gold and Jaster's partner, the elusive, brilliant Bristol (Doug Hutchison), on his own.

Clenteen, who suspects Alvin knows something, springs our hapless pawn out of jail. He secretly implants a tracking device in the poor guy's jaw and uses him as bait for Bristol who, for reasons that escape me, spends the entire movie imitating John Malkovich.

Alvin tries to make amends with his estranged girlfriend Lisa (Kimberly Elise), who has been taking care of his 2-year-old son. He's completely unaware his conversations and actions are being monitored by Clenteen's team-and that he's a sitting duck for Bristol.

Standard stuff, thanks to government work by scriptwriter Andrew ("Mickey Blue Eyes") Scheinman. But Foxx's playfulness works around the flat formula.

He's always up to something funny, usually involving his character's less-than-genius-level intelligence or his jive displays of courage.

When Clenteen explains his dark agenda with a barrage of highfalutin words, Alvin's eyes widen with lack of understanding. And his fumbling attempt to pretend he does understand is even funnier. At another point, he threatens Clenteen from his cell. As soon as Clenteen walks toward him, Alvin stuffs himself under his cot. When Clenteen leaves, he gets out again with more threats. When Clenteen returns again, Alvin chickens out once more. It's simple, but hilarious.

But Foxx, who was also terrifically funny in "Any Given Sunday," is well on his way. As soon as someone writes him something better, he'll be streaking past his more successful fellow grads from Fox's "In Living Color." But let's not overstate this. "Bait" will not topple "Citizen Kane" from the all-time great movie list: It's just respectable trash, and a dress rehearsal for better things ahead.

BAIT (R, 119 minutes) - Contains the usual staples: sex, violence, obscenity. Area theaters.


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