×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Art of War

In the pretentiously titled "The Art of War," a B-level international thriller brought to the screen by Morgan Creek and Elie Samaha's production company, Wesley Snipes plays an American agent who gets involved in the emerging trade relations between China and the Western world, with a shaky U.N. set amid the diplomatic intrigues. Despite Christian Duguay's messy direction and Wayne Beach and Simon Davis Barry's lopsided script, Snipes' charismatic performance gives the pic the semblance of an actioner with three or four highly pleasing chase scenes. Warners' late summer release will have an OK opening due to support from African-American patrons and genre's aficionados -- it's been awhile since Hollywood's last conspiracy actioner -- but a quick theatrical playoff is expected once reviews and unenticing word-of-mouth kick in.

With:
Neil Shaw - Wesley Snipes Eleanor Hooks - Anne Archer Capella - Maury Chaykin David Chan - Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa Douglas Thomas - Donald Sutherland Bly - Michael Biehn Julia - Marie Matiko Novak - Liliana Kmorowska Ambassador Wu - James Hong

In the pretentiously titled “The Art of War,” a B-level international thriller brought to the screen by Morgan Creek and Elie Samaha’s production company, Wesley Snipes plays an American agent who gets involved in the emerging trade relations between China and the Western world, with a shaky U.N. set amid the diplomatic intrigues. Despite Christian Duguay’s messy direction and Wayne Beach and Simon Davis Barry’s lopsided script, Snipes’ charismatic performance gives the pic the semblance of an actioner with three or four highly pleasing chase scenes. Warners’ late summer release will have an OK opening due to support from African-American patrons and genre’s aficionados — it’s been awhile since Hollywood’s last conspiracy actioner — but a quick theatrical playoff is expected once reviews and unenticing word-of-mouth kick in.

Almost every element in “Art of War” is slightly off, beginning with the timing of its release: Yarn is set on the eve of the new millennium. In a particularly cacophonous opening, a colorfully decadent party in Hong Kong that almost dwarfs the dialogue, we learn that China is about to sign a trade treaty and hence begin a new exciting era after a long isolationist history.

Wu (James Hong), the Chinese ambassador to the U.N., seemingly assisted by David Chan (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), a successful Chinese entrepreneur, have been working hard to promote the pact with U.N. Secretary General Thomas (Donald Sutherland). What sets off a bizarre chain of events is the creepy sight of a group of murdered Chinese refugees, found in a container in New York harbor by agent Cappella (Maury Chaykin).

An important U.N. meeting with speeches translated by U.N. employee Julia (Marie Matiko) begins, but Wu is assassinated in the midst of his delivery. FBI agent Neil Shaw (Snipes), working closely with his supervisor, Eleanor Hooks (Anne Archer), chases the killer in a thrilling sequence.

This intriguing setup occurs in the first reel, which, regrettably, is followed by a lengthy and disjointed espionage-conspiracy tale, undermined by awkward cutting between action and dialogue scenes, some of which try to explain the title. (“The Art of War” is an ancient handbook by Sun Tsu, a powerful Asian general who believed that wars can be won without ever having to actually fight.) As a result of these problems, actioner assumes the shape of a roller-coaster ride that’s interrupted so many times the joy is almost killed.

It’s not that yarn lacks story or characters — it has plenty of both. For a while, just figuring out the tangled, ever-changing relationships and coalitions provides some fun. Working with an elite team of covert agents who are so deeply classified they don’t officially exist, Shaw is a potentially exciting action hero: A Buddhist, which colors his outlook on the world, and a martial arts expert, with plenty of opportunities to demonstrate both his mental acuity and physical prowess.

Shaw is contrasted with Bly (Michael Biehn), the team’s intense but more playful partner, who relates to his risky job as a game. Knowing that the government perceives them as necessary weapons — rather than humans with feelings — the duo execute their tasks while ignoring the dubious reasoning and appalling machinations that define international politics.

Following generic conventions, yarn arranges for Shaw to team up with the beautiful Julia. Ultimately, she is the only person he can really trust and also the one person who may be holding the key to a global conspiracy of cataclysmic proportions that threatens the very existence of the U.N.

No contempo thriller-actioner can ignore the high-tech world, and this pic is no exception. Indeed, soon all the protagonists are after a disc that, played in slo-mo, reveals evidence about the circumstances in which Wu was murdered while Chan was seated next to him.

Like any other summer blockbuster, “Art of War” has its fair share of gun-blazing mayhem and lurid violence. Artistically, pic lies uncomfortably between John Woo’s stylishly extravagant actioners and Jerry Bruckheimer’s more conventional fare. In its messy structure and insistently chaotic loud score, the film is closer to the latter, yet some sequences approximate the cool elegance of the more impressive Hong Kong actioners.

Duguay gives the film an erratic tempo, with several crucial sequences coming out of the blue. Brisk pacing can conceal only up to a point helmer’s crude approach, writing flaws and especially choppy editing.

Despite some effectively rousing set pieces, particularly in the long corridors of the U.N. building, “The Art of War” is ultimately much less than the sum of its parts.

A talented ensemble elevates the actioner at least a notch or two above the material’s level. Snipes, also credited as one of the exec producers, is most credibly and appealingly cast as the “invisible” hero, in a part that enables him to show dramatic acting as well as martial arts skills.

It’s nice to see Archer, for years typecast as the long-suffering wife, play a different, tougher role. In the small, underdeveloped part of a bewildered U.N. secretary general, the versatile Sutherland commands attention, and so does Canadian character thesp Chaykin, playing the only role that contains some humor, an element otherwise missing from the proceedings.

The Art of War

Production: A Warner Bros. release of a Morgan Creek Prods., Franchise Pictures and Amen Ra Films presentation of a Filmline Intl. production. Produced by Nicolas Clermont. Executive producers, Elie Samaha, Dan Halsted, Wesley Snipes. Co-producer, Richard Lalonde. Directed by Christian Duguay. Screenplay, Wayne Beach, Simon Davis Barry, based on a story by Beach.

Crew: Camera (DeLuxe, widescreen), Pierre Gill; editor, Michel Arcand; music, Normand Corbeil; music supervisor, David Franco; production designer, Anne Pritchard; art directors, Jean Morin, Pierre Perrault; set decorator, Ginette Robitaille; costume designer, Odette Gadoury; sound (Dolby/SDDS), Donald Cohen; special effects coordinator, Louis Craig, Les Productions de L'intrigue; visual effects supervisors, Georges Jardon, Pierre Raymond; associate producer, Alan Chu; assistant director, Michael Williams; casting, Rosina Bucci, Nadia Rona, Vera Miller, Elite Casting. Reviewed at a Warners screening room, Burbank, Aug. 16, 2000. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 117 MIN.

With: Neil Shaw - Wesley Snipes Eleanor Hooks - Anne Archer Capella - Maury Chaykin David Chan - Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa Douglas Thomas - Donald Sutherland Bly - Michael Biehn Julia - Marie Matiko Novak - Liliana Kmorowska Ambassador Wu - James Hong

More Film

  • Sam Mendes

    Sam Mendes' World War I Drama '1917' Set for Awards-Season Launch on Christmas 2019

    Universal Pictures has given an awards-season release date of Dec. 25, 2019, to Sam Mendes’ World War I drama “1971.” Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Partners is producing “1917” through its DreamWorks Pictures brand. “1917” will open in limited release on Christmas Day then go wide two weeks later on Jan. 10, 2020. More Reviews Film Review: [...]

  • Ventana Sur Queer Latin Film Panel

    Ventana Sur: Panel Talks Merits, Setbacks in Latin Queer Cinema

    BUENOS AIRES — Four venerable professionals from the cinema world joined on Monday evening for Queer Cinema In Latin America, a frank discussion on Latin America’s role within the queer filmscape for Ventana Sur’s Industry conference series held at the UCA campus in Buenos Aires. Touching on advancements in character arc and notable achievements in [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez

    Jennifer Lopez 'Absolutely' Wants to Direct Film and Television

    Jennifer Lopez epitomizes the phrase “she’s done it all” — but there’s still more that the superstar would like to do. Lopez recently directed her first music video, “Limitless,” the track featured on her new rom-com “Second Act,” and it seems the multi-hyphenate has caught the directing bug. More Reviews Film Review: 'Dumplin'' Film Review: [...]

  • The favourite Movie

    Olivia Colman to Be Honored by Palm Springs Festival for 'The Favourite'

    “The Favourite” star Olivia Colman will receive the Desert Palm Achievement Award by the Palm Springs International Film Festival. The award will be presented by her co-star Emma Stone at the festival’s awards gala on Jan. 3 at the Palm Springs Convention Center. The festival, now in its 30th year, runs from Jan. 3 to [...]

  • Oscars Oscar Academy Awards Placeholder

    Motion Pictures Academy Announces Scientific and Technical Awards

    The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced nine scientific and technical achievements, represented by 27 individual recipients, to be honored at the annual Scientific and Technical Awards Presentation Feb. 9 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. In addition, Curtis Clark will be receiving the John A. Bonner Award for his service [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content