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For Snipes, A Losing Battle

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 26, 2000


    'The Art of War' Wesley Snipes battles everyone–good and bad–in "The Art of War." (Warner Brothers)
"The Art of War" seems to be inspired by Sun Tzu's 18th Principle, albeit rewritten to read, "All movies are based on deception." It's so deceiving that it's incomprehensible.

Don't quote me on this, but I believe it involves a heroic U.N. covert operations stud–Wesley Snipes–scrambling to avoid a frame-up for an assassination, while at the same time aspiring to preserve an important Chinese-American trade agreement. But all this is never explained so much as occasionally whispered or randomly overheard. You'd need old Sun Tzu himself to figure the damn thing out.

So forget story and move on the the movie's true reason for being, the three principles it believes in, derived less from Sun Tzu than from those deep thinkers at Warner Bros. marketing.

Wesley Snipes is neat.

Asian women are beautiful.

Style is everything.

The first is indisputably true. Snipes, all cheekbones and sinew and attitude, swaggers through this movie as Neil Shaw, the man from U.N.-cool, a super-slick wardog in the James Bond mold. Alas, his writers aren't as good as Bond's so his point-of-death bon mots lack a certain something. But generally, this isn't a performance, it's a presence, meant not to convince but to mesmerize.

My one caveat: It appears that Snipes isn't the martial arts star he would like us to believe, and you can tell when stunt men take those flying dragon spin kicks the Main Man is not up to.

As for the Asian women, they are everywhere, and the camera loves to study the delicacy of their cheekbones, the porcelain of their skin, the depth of their dark eyes, the tenderness of their lips. Somebody has a major Asian-chick jones, particularly when it comes to Marie Matiko, who is teamed with Snipes in a kind of couple-on-the-run scenario that forms the centerpiece of the movie.

Matiko is the best thing in the picture, sassy, funny, smart, capable of standing up to and even diminishing the great Snipes charisma. Alas, toward the end, she's turned into a typical gal in distress in a haunted house (the U.N. building!) being hunted by a psycho, and along comes Snipes to save her.

How much neater if she'd have disposed of the psycho with her own flying dragon spin kick, then saved Snipes.

And finally, for the style: Somebody get this director Christian Duguay an A-budget so he'll shut up and go away. This is one of those films that has been engineered according to the following coda: PLEASE NOTICE THE DIRECTOR! Every possible angle, camera move, editing trick, slo-mo, speed-up, filtered lenses, desaturated colors, the whole Directing-Made-EZ tool kit. He ought to learn how to tell a story; then again, in today's Hollywood, that would probably hold him back.

The Art of War (R, 117 minutes) – Contains extreme violence and headache-inducing editing.


© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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