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Romeo Must Die

Starring: Jet Li, Aaliyah
Director: Andrzej Bartkowiak
Genre: Action
Year: 2000
Rating: 2 / 5

An article I read recently discussed the most popular action stars in Hong Kong. It made the point of saying that, while Jackie Chan topped the charts in 1998, Chow Yun-Fat had surpassed him in 1999. The article went on to suggest that Chow Yun-Fat's reign would be a short one, as Jet Li was showing signs of stardom. Hints of this potential are scattered all throughout Romeo Must Die, the ambitious, albeit disappointing, Jet Li action film directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak. Jet Li is clearly charismatic, and I have no doubt that he has some impressive moves to display. Unfortunately, this particular film is undone by gaping plot holes and an unnecessary abundance of computer-aided stunts.

There is a turf war going on in Oakland between Ch'u Sing's (Henry O) Asian organization and Isaak O'Day's (Delroy Lindo) African-American syndicate. At stake is the possible arrival of a new professional football team, an operation spearheaded by the slimy Vincent Roth (Edoardo Ballerini, trying really hard to look like Sliders star Jerry O'Connell). Both sides have seemingly put their differences aside in order to gain control of some lucrative waterfront property, with an eye on selling it to Roth for millions of dollars. This fragile peace is destroyed, however, when Ch'u Sing's son Po (Jon Kit Lee) is found murdered.

When news of his brother's death reaches Han Sing (Jet Li) in his Hong Kong prison, he immediately gets free - through a very impressive prison break sequence - and heads to America. There he meets Trish O'Day (Aaliyah), daughter of Isaak O'Day, his family's sworn enemy. When Trish's brother Colin (D.B. Woodside) is found murdered as well, the war only escalates. It becomes apparent to Han and Trish, however, that something is not right. Shop owners along the waterfront are being terrorized, and the gangland warfare seems an all-too-convenient excuse to impose a forceful will on the neighborhood. But what is really going on in the streets of Oakland, and who is behind it?

Romeo Must Die deserves special recognition for attempting to employ a plot that, for a change, is not paper-thin. The plot is actually rather complex, involving old family secrets, underworld dealings, and power struggles. Unfortunately, in an action format, most of these plot details either get lost in the shuffle or are woefully underdeveloped. Even more disappointing, though, is the use of computer technology to "aid" Jet Li's impressive action skills. Jet Li is a master in his own right, and the computer-aided special effects make his stunts appear over-the-top and wholly unrealistic. His best work involves him simply wreaking havoc with his bare hands (or whatever happens to be handy). Despite all of his efforts, and a winning turn by R&B superstar Aaliyah, Romeo Must Die remains little more than an above-average Jean-Claude Van Damme film.

Cast:
Jet Li..........Han Sing
Aaliyah..........Trish O'Day
Delroy Lindo..........Isaak O'Day
Isaiah Washington..........Mac
Russell Wong..........Kai Sing
Henry O..........Ch'u Sing
DMX..........Silk

Certification: Rated R for violence and language.
Running Time: 115 minutes.

Additional Info: Internet Movie Database
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[critics]