Sunday, November 23, 2014

Classic Li: Cradle 2 the Grave (2003)

We did one for Jackie, so we thought it's only fair we do one for Jet. Classic Li is our new eight-part series in which we review some classic Jet Li works. Chicken Man and I will alternate with four reviews each, though these reviews are not organized in any particular order. Up first is the Li/DMX team up Cradle 2 the Grave, a name which both looks and sounds like the title of a Prince record.

He's just so sensitive.
Cradle 2 the Grave is some very formulaic buddy cop martial arts stuff. One guy is black, the other is Asian. One likes hip hop, the other likes some different kind of music. One wears a whole lot of tank tops, the other can fight. How could they possibly accomplish anything with all those racial differences standing in their way? DMX plays the Detective Carter type, a jewel thief with a daughter and a conscience. He finds a stash of what appears to be black diamonds on a routine multi-million dollar heist, only to have those diamonds recovered by Jet, the Detective Lee type of this story. Some bozo arms dealer and his crew are out for the supposed diamonds, so he kidnaps X's daughter and holds her hostage. Naturally, reluctantly, X and Li must work together to get the little girl back, save the world from all kinds of nasty things, and promote DMX's latest single.

This is a really solid action film. DMX can't act a lick, but he doesn't have to do much besides yell/bark/hug his baby girl/gawk at a girl's cleavage while riding on a subway car, so he's palatable. Jet gets it, though; he's always at his best playing the silent but somewhat moral assassin (he doesn't particularly appreciate it when kids get hurt) like he does here. DMX does rumble a bit, but Jet really carries this as far as the martial arts are concerned. Like many of Jet and Jackie Chan's Hollywood projects, the kung fu in this one is a bit tempered when compared with their Chinese-language flicks. Still, Cradle has a nice, clean aesthetic in terms of the the fight scenes: not too many quick cuts, and not too much of that shaky-cam nonsense. It's a bit slow in the beginning, but it builds to a very satisfying climax. In fact, the final 30 minutes of Cradle is non-stop excitement, a veritable thrill-a-minute roller coaster, or something similar (I'm hoping to get Code Redd Net on the back of a DVD cover in the future, and I know how much hyphens are appreciated by the cats who make the important decisions regarding blurbs). I like Cradle 2 the Grave. I like watching Cradle 2 the Grave. I like typing Cradle 2 the Grave almost as much, but not quite as much.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

PS2 Review: Black (2006)

So loud, so pretty, and yet so soulless.

Black reminds me a lot of the original TimeSplitters, actually: both are technically sophisticated first-person shooters without much of a narrative to back them up. Sure, Black has something of a plot, even live-action cinematics of an almost unbearably cheesy kind (lots of cigarette smoke and tough guy voices), but it ultimately means nothing. It's more of a skeleton outline for a plot than a fleshed-out story. It has something to do with a black ops solider and his team's quest to take down an arms dealer/terrorist in Russia. What plot there is you get from a pre-mission cinematic in which the main character is being interrogated by an intelligence agency higher-up. But once the mission starts, you easy to lose track of what you were asked to do and why you were asked to do it. That's not to say that Black asks a whole lot from you intellectually; you simply march down some very linear levels, shoot stuff, and when an objective pops up onscreen, you do what it asks of you. "Episodic" is the nice way to describe Black, but "lazy" is the more honest way. Even for a first-person shooter, Black has precious little variety in terms of gameplay. You don't even get workable stealth, let alone vehicles to drive, and the occasional squaddies that join you for battle do nothing useful. Essentially, you run around and shoot things and you don't have to be particularly (or generally) strategic about it. It's also criminally short, and in no way does the final battle feel in any way climatic. And unlike TimeSplitters, there's no multiplayer to redeem an otherwise facile single-player experience.

I can say some nice things about Black. Everything looks phenomenal, especially the environments, many of which can be destroyed in several lovely ways. Similarly, it sounds superb, both in terms of its score and its sound effects. You also can't fault the game's attention to detail regarding firearms; there's a palpable sense of fetish for the guns, for recoil and reloading. In other words, Black will dazzle you; it's certainly immersive to a degree. The only problem is, there's just no heart to it at all. What you have with Black is a really nice tech demo for the PS2, and little else.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Finest Fights: Unleashed (2005)

Here's a new, albeit very belated, entry in our beloved Finest Fights series. As always, your friends at Code Redd Net are dedicated to occasionally bringing you the very best in cinematic butt-kickings.

Morgan Freeman needs to be in more kung fu flicks, for real.

Unleashed is one of the great Jet Li films. And this is likely the best fight scene to ever take place in a really small bathroom.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

PS2 Review: Headhunter (2002)

I miss Winback. I miss the covert operations of a relentlessly optimistic Jean-Luc and his trusty laser-sight. Sure, there was a sequel, Project Poseidascrewoff, but it was worthless (to say the very least). Fortunately, Headhunter is kinda like Winback. It's good. It does the job. There's significantly fewer laser traps, but there's still plenty of crates to blow up. Always a good time with crates around.

Best part: you can toggle those sunglasses on or off at any time,
depending on your mood or the time of day, I guess.
Basically, what you have with Headhunter is a near future Los Angeles in which, among other things, law enforcement has been privatized, and criminals have their organs harvested for use by rich folks. You play as Jack Wade, an amnesiac bounty hunter who wakes up in and escapes from a funky laboratory. Jack wakes up in a hospital and an old agency pal explains that he was once the finest headhunter in all the land. In order to uncover the truth, Jack must re-acquire his headhuntin' license through a series of virtual reality tests, while simultaneously investigating the murder of a bureaucrat.

Headhunter has three main parts: the virtual reality tests, the missions, and a few motorcycle segments. First, let's pursue this Winback comparison a bit further. Like Winback, this is a third-person actioner; you hug a lot of walls while shooting it out with your adversaries. Unlike Winback, though, you can actually shoot your gun while moving around; and as a result, you rely much less on cover than you may have in Winback. Unfortunately, you have little control over your aim; you can lock on to baddies, but you can't aim for the head, and you often inadvertently target nonthreatening objects (specifically rats) instead of those individuals shooting at you. The controls are a bit sticky in general, and the camera is both obtrusive and obstinate in terms of mobility. This becomes a real problem during the occasional "stealth" segment, even though "stealth" in this game is essentially limited to a single neck-snapping move Jack performs from behind. It doesn't matter how fast or slow you approach an enemy for the stealth kill, even if you run up to him full-tilt down an empty hallway, so long as he doesn't lay eyes on you. Finally, there's the motorcycle portions of the game, which I found particularly painful. Jack's seemingly nimble Yamaha or whatever handles like a rig, and no matter how hard you slam into oncoming traffic, you come to a complete stop. When you hit the gas again, Jack invariably performs a wheelie, and why not. There's really no reason for these motorcycle escapades to exist because, with the exception of a bomb chase later in the game, you only use the cycle to get from one mission to the next; no freeway chases, no shootouts, nothing. You could've just taken the bus and it would've been just as thrilling.

I hate that bike so much. Save the environment and walk, Jack.
I like Headhunter, though. Take away that stupid motorcycle and this is a solid third-person shooter. It has some control issues, but it makes up for it in other areas. In particular, the music is fantastic (though a bit repetitive), as is the voice-over work (though the gravel-voice cynicism of Jack Wade makes me miss the earnest, pre-pubescent whine of Jean-Luc). Headhunter's writing is not much better than Winback, but it's certainly performed in a much more convincing fashion. I can't really complain about the length of this game, though I would've liked an incentive to play through it again, or even a multiplayer option. Headhunter's a worthwhile purchase.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

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