Although it pays a passing reference to Sun-Tzu's classic of military
THE ART OF WAR, the film of the same name is a fairly ho-hum
     thriller that posits a threat to Chinese-American relations on the eve of
     a trade agreement. In its attempt to rip the plot from the headlines,
THE ART OF WAR throws in Vietnamese refugees (who are never
     satisfactorily explained), covert operations and a convoluted plot with
     double and triple crosses that make it infinitely difficult to follow.
     Somewhere in there is probably a good film but director Christian Duguay
     (whose best work to date was the television miniseries
"Joan of Arc")
     squanders may opportunities. The hackneyed script credited to Wayne
     Beach and Simon Davis Barry is also to blame. No cliché is left out
     and several surprise twists are so easily predicted it's almost laughable.

             Wesley Snipes plays Neil Shaw, a government agent who is a
     master of gadgetry, martial arts and disguise. In the extended opening
     sequence, he is working undercover in Hong Kong on New Year's Eve,
     during which he manages to steal secret files from an unattended
     computer and then blackmail a government minister into negotiating
     by secretly filming the official in a compromising situation with a minor.
     After a James Bondian escape by parachute, Snipes opts to retire for
     a few months until he is called back into service by Eleanor Hooks (Anne
     Archer), who works at the United Nations and assists the UN Secretary
     General (Donald Sutherland). Shaw is recruited to keep tabs on the
     Chinese ambassador but in one of those only-in-the-movies twists ends
     up accused of assassinating the diplomat. Shaw is also being chased by
     Chinese gang members who orchestra his escape from the FBI and
     also murder Shaw's team of assistants. There is also an eyewitness --
     the ambassador's assistant Julia (Marie Matiko) who finds herself
     targeted when she comes forward to clear his name.

             The plot -- such as it -- spirals on, but because there seems
     to be only an implied threat that the balance of power might shift
     on the world stage, the film lacks a definable villain and therefore
     rarely engages the audience. A lot of possibilities are touched on
     but nothing is fully developed. The characters are one- or
     two-dimensional at best, there's little or no humor and the action
     sequences have a routine, watered down feel to them. Snipes tries
     hard to make his character interesting but he's playing a cipher that
     doesn't allow for much opportunity for histrionics. He's clearly
     studied his martial arts but those sequences almost seem tacked
     on rather than a generic outgrowth of the story. Marie Matiko as
     the girl on the lam is okay in the stereotypical helpless female role
     while Sutherland looks vaguely embarrassed but remains professional.
     Archer is crisp and officiously efficient but also gets defeated by
     the screenplay. Maury Chaykin as a paunchy FBI agent and Paul
     Hopkins as his inept assistant attempt to provide a little levity.

             Much is made about how
THE ART OF WAR deals with strategy
     so it would have been nice if someone had applied that principle to
     the film and crafted a plan for a good script.

                             Rating:                D+
                             MPAA Rating:        R
                             Running time:       120 mins.
© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.