Sony // 2008 // 103 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // August 8th, 2008
He's back...and he wants revenge.
Tell you the truth, I didn't even know he was missing. The sequel no one clamored for hits DVD.
Neil Shaw (Wesley Snipes, Blade: Trinity) has returned to help out a friend with senatorial aspirations who's been dragged into a web of corruption, assassination attempts, blackmail and shady dealings with a weapons manufacturer. Reluctant at first, Shaw decides to bet back in the game and gets down to doing what he does best: being all frowny and serious and planting his knee into his opponents' genitals.
I recall watching the first Art of War and feeling utterly bored. I remember hearing something about Jet Li originally being attached and since I had just embarked on a love affair with all things Jet Li at the time, I decided to give money to the people responsible for The Art of War, thinking that if they had originally wanted someone as bad-ass as Li in this thing, maybe they had some decent action sensibilities. That was not the case and the only thing I remember from the experience was that stupid, stupid tacked-on recitation of Sun Tzu by Michael Biehn at the very end to, I assume, lend credibility to the title.
I mean at its best-regarded, the original could be considered a mildly effective espionage beat 'em up by diehard fans and little else. Why there's a need for a sequel, besides keeping Wesley Snipes gainfully employed, is beyond me. If you haven't caught on, I didn't much care for The Art of War II: Betrayal, a ponderous, sometimes ridiculous affair featuring a needlessly complicated plot, lazy performances and empty fight choreography.
So there's a conspiracy afoot and the FBI is pissed off at Agent Shaw and something something something there's a dead congressman and Shaw is framed and some political opponents of a senator want to tie the death to her and blah blah blah a defense firm hoping to cash in on a lucrative government contract is pulling the strings. Basically, a bunch of guys in masks incessantly run at Wesley Snipes so he can use their necks as fist massagers. If the plot of the first film didn't grab you (which I can't remember right now but do remember at the time thinking that it was overly complicated) the sequel's story will leave you flailing in the wind.
But back to "the guys in masks running at Wesley Snipes." There are a handful of hand-to-hand combat sequences and while director Josef Rusnak -- for the most part -- is able to override his ADHD filmmaking sensibilities and let the fights transpire in full view of a steady camera lens, the violence ultimately feels hollow and, well, pointless. Snipes has apparently subscribed to the Steven Seagal school of in invulnerable action stars. There are plenty of dudes looking to get a piece of our hero, but they don't even come close to rumpling his dress shirt. Shaw dispatches is foes with ease and without a hint of danger or high stakes the fight scenes pretty much just fill space. Granted, Snipes still has the skills to pay the bills and lets loose with an impressive array of moves, but if the dude isn't in danger of even spraining a thumb, who cares? And as skilled as Snipes is, his bouts simply aren't engaging enough to compensate. In fact, so desperate for violent content, the writers etched in a sequence where Shaw steals some bystander's phone at a gas station and proceeds to beat the nougat out of the guys who stand up to him. Yeah, that's not ingratiating yourself to the audience, Mr. Snipes.
Also...One of the stupidest Final Bad Guy Death Scenes ever conceived. CGI rubble? Gak.
If you do decide to sign up for the adventure, Sony delivers an uneven 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer (darker scenes are tough to fight through) and a rudimentary 5.1 track, complemented by a fistful of trailers, some alternate fight scenes and digital copy.
The Art of War II joins its predecessor in "The Void of Forgettable Action Blah."
Guilty. What say we give Mr. Tzu a rest, huh fellas?
Review content copyright © 2008 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Thai)
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Alternate Fight Scenes
* Digital Copy
* DVD Verdict Review - The Art of War