The Art of War Trilogy
The Art of War (August 7/08)
Though The Art of War ultimately comes off as a fairly generic thriller, the film - anchored by Wesley Snipes' charismatic performance and several unexpectedly enthralling action sequences - does manage to hold one's interest through the course of its admittedly overlong running time. Snipes plays Neil Shaw, a covert operative who finds himself caught up in a wide-reaching conspiracy involving a dead ambassador and a complex trade agreement between the United States and China. Screenwriters Wayne Beach and Simon Barry have infused The Art of War with a storyline that's often absurdly complicated, as the pair place a continuing emphasis on the political maneuverings of the various supporting characters (including Donald Sutherland's Douglas Thomas and Anne Archer's Eleanor Hooks). And because the majority of this stuff isn't even remotely as intriguing as Beach and Barry clearly believe it to be, there's little doubt that the film's midsection - which has been bogged down with meaningless, relentless blather - tends to limp along between the increasingly sparse bursts of violence. It's a testament to the effectiveness of the various performances and Christian Duguay's stylish directorial choices that The Art of War nevertheless remains kind of watchable even through its dull spots, with the amped-up finale - in which Shaw and the central villain engage in a bullet-dodging, entirely over-the-top battle - ensuring that the movie does end on an admittedly positive note.
The Art of War II: Betrayal
There's little doubt that The Art of War II: Betrayal primarily comes off as an in-name-only sequel to its 2000 predecessor, as the movie possesses precisely the sort of low-rent and entirely underwhelming atmosphere that one has come to expect from the straight-to-video action realm. The incredibly generic storyline - which follows Wesley Snipes' Neil Shaw as he attempts to foil a plot to assassinate a senator - feels as though it could have emerged from any number of similarly-themed efforts, and the almost total lack of elements designed to evoke memories of the first film is nothing short of baffling (ie Shaw, last seen living in Europe with his girlfriend, now resides in an expansive North American home by himself). Josef Rusnak's consistently inept directorial choices serve only to call attention to the movie's exceedingly substandard production values, as the filmmaker has infused the proceedings with an oppressive selection of needlessly ostentatious visual tricks (ie choppy slow motion, shaky camerawork, etc). It consequently goes without saying that The Art of War II: Betrayal is rife with overblown and downright dull sequences, although - admittedly - there is one effective interlude involving Shaw's surreptitious efforts at breaking into Homeland Security disguised as a rat catcher (this is in addition to the amusing scene in which Shaw temporarily disorients an assailant with the old flashlight-to-the-eyes trick). The end result is a film that certainly feels right at home within Snipes' increasingly shoddy body of work, which is undoubtedly a shame given the strength of some his earlier efforts within the genre (ie Passenger 57, Demolition Man, etc).
The Art of War III: Retribution
Although a slight cut above its immediate predecessor, The Art of War III: Retribution is precisely the sort of tedious and flat-out superfluous endeavor one has come to expect from the straight-to-video action scene. The film substitutes Treach for Wesley Snipes in the central role of Neil Shaw, with the storyline primarily following Shaw and his green partner (Warren Derosa's Jason) as they attempt to prevent North Korean terrorists from obtaining a nuclear bomb. It's worth noting that The Art of War III: Retribution benefits substantially from Gerry Lively's relatively restrained directorial choices, as the filmmaker - in comparison to part two helmer Josef Rusnak's overcranked sensibilities - generally avoids the temptation to bog the movie's action sequences down with needlessly ostentatious camera tricks and gimmicks. By that same token, however, Lively ongoing difficulties at infusing The Art of War III: Retribution's fight scenes with any degree of genuine excitement results in a pervasively lackluster atmosphere that's perpetuated by the film's myriad of underwhelming attributes (ie Treach's sullen, far-from-charismatic performance). The increasingly convoluted storyline ensures that most viewers will have tuned out long before the final confrontation arrives, and one is ultimately forced to label the movie yet another run-of-the-mill actioner that's been shamelessly designed to capitalize on its progenitor's mild notoriety.