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Romeo Must Die

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Oakland, where we lay our scene,
From racial grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood ruins NFL scheme.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers kick some butt;
With belts and chains and things that Jet Li throws
And with fists fight a foe richer than Tut.
The action-packed passage of whoop-ass love,
And fear for each family that lies between,
Which, but climactic war, naught could remove,
Is now the two hours traffic of our screen;
Which is if you with patient ears can stand,
A lack of plot, yet many fights of hand.

The film is Romeo Must Die. It stars Jet Li as a man who kicks ass. Who is Jet Li? He's an action star from Hong Kong who kicks ass. He kicks ass often and well. He kicks ass when he's tied up and hanging from his ankle. He kicks ass with his belt. He kicks ass with other people's belts. He kicks ass when he's using someone else as his weapon. And he plays a mean game of football.

Sadly, the movie has a plot and other characters, and therein lies the problems.

Romeo Must Dies is a loose adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, set in Oakland, California instead of fair Verona. Two crime families, one black, one Chinese, hate each other. The young daughter of one family falls for the young son of the other family. Each family forbids contact. The kids ignore the family, as kids so often do. But somewhere in Act 4 (Shakespeare plays have 5 acts) the movie stops being Romeo and Juliet and becomes a Hong Kong action thriller.

To try to get more specific about the plot would be pointless. Something about two sides vying for the chance to bring an NFL team to Oakland (which, by the way, already has one- duh). Everybody's dying, everyone suspects everyone else and Jet Li and Aaliyah try to figure everything out and not get killed.

The weird thing about this movie is that it saps the true joy from its strongest asset. Jet Li, as previously mentioned, kicks ass. He can do more things with the human body than a fifty-dollar hooker. And yet, they felt the need to digitally enhance his action sequences. So his fight scenes look like something out of The Matrix, which makes you forget that Jet Li could clobber Keanu Reeves six ways to Sunday. I mean, you digitally enhance me and I could jump thirty feet into the air and kick nine thugs in the head before landing.

Acting, character development and story are all casualties to the art of the Boot to the Head. Delroy Lindo holds his own as a gangster with a heart of gold. But that's about it. Aaliyah, who plays the Juliet character, is very pretty and very sweet but needs to try not to 'act' so hard. And she needs some more consonants in her name.

One last thought, and this is something that has bothered me about this genre of movies for some time. The very end. The fights have been fought. The outcome determined. And the lone survivor of the fight walks away, past all of the cop cars that have arrived on the scene to take care of the matter. And no one stops the survivor to get so much as a statement.

"Abandoned warehouse. Twenty dead. Blood everywhere. There goes the only survivor, should we stop him for questioning?"

"No, let him go. He's suffered enough."


Romeo Must Die gets 2 1/2 Babylons. Fancy footwork from Jet Li is the only thing that saves this from being a complete disaster.

Editor's Note:

A digitally enhanced SMC...interesting thought. Perhaps if we digitally enhance the SMC's reviews THEY would kick ass.

Romeo Must Die
Rated: R
Directed By: Andrzej Bartkowiak
Starring: Jet Li, Aaliyah, Delroy Lindo, Isaiah Washington and Russell Wong with mega-props out to JamMaster Shakespeare for the Cheddar, Baby!

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