CRADLE 2 THE GRAVE (R, 100 minutes)
"Cradle 2 the Grave" fills its many lapses in narrative logic with bone-breaking martial arts fights, gleeful heavy-weaponry shootouts and destructive chase scenes. Diverting in an insult-your-intelligence kind of way, all its firepower is clearly aimed at the international film market, where mayhem sells and sparse dialogue hinges on American slang and profanity. Younger teens who like action flicks may head for this one, but it's more appropriate for high schoolers 16 and older. In addition to the violence and profanity, there are racial slurs, verbal sexual innuendo and a suggestive striptease with no actual nudity. Finally, the story involves the kidnapping of an 8-year-old girl, who is slapped, roughed up and verbally threatened.
A team of jewel thieves steals a bag of black diamonds in a slick opening sequence. But the diamonds are nabbed from them by mysterious, violent Asian operatives. Enter martial arts star Jet Li as Su, a grim-faced Taiwanese agent who teams up with the lead American thief, Tony Fait (rapper-actor DMX), to retrieve the stones and save Fait's daughter (Paige Hurd), who is abducted by the bad guys. Fellow crooks Gabrielle Union, Anthony Anderson and Tom Arnold help Fait and Su save the world. Weapons of mass destruction lurk at the dubious core of this story, but it only seems timely. It's really just exploitation.
THE LIFE OF DAVID GALE (R, 130 minutes)
High schoolers 16 and older who have an interest in current events and issues such as the death penalty may find "The Life of David Gale" absorbing enough. It's certainly well acted by a fine cast. But more seasoned cinema buffs may fault the film's self-important tone, Alan Parker's lugubrious direction and Charles Randolph's script, which is more sermon than story. Inappropriate for younger teens, the movie contains explicit sexual situations, nonsexual nudity, an upsetting death-by-suffocation scene, a suicide theme, profanity and drinking.
Kevin Spacey plays the title character, a former professor at the University of Texas and anti-death penalty activist now on death row for the rape and murder of a colleague and fellow activist (Laura Linney). Kate Winslet plays a famous magazine reporter who interviews him during his final week of life. Of course, she becomes fascinated by his story (told in a series of flashbacks) and convinced of the flawed but brilliant man's innocence. But that's too simple. The film plays baldly contrived tricks during its finale, designed not to wind up a good yarn, but to make a point. When a movie that purports to examine the death penalty shows only toothless bumpkin characters speaking in favor of it and educated, saintly types speaking against it, that movie isn't playing fair. Even the choir it's preaching to might balk.