Cradle 2 the Grave

Directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak (Warner Bros., in release)

DMX’s Tony Fait is a bedside-praying, kid-hugging, seat-belt-eschewing professional thief who, after a jewel heist gone awry, loses the stones to his crime mentor (a deliciously smarmy Chi McBride), his daughter to a gang of surly Asian hoods, and a fight or two to Taiwanese G-man Su (Jet Li) before befriending him in this madcap recovery adventure. Mean-mugging against Steven Seagal in Exit Wounds, X was charming and sharp. This time out, he acts like he raps—in fits and starts, with heaps of ruff growling. Li barely has enough lines to qualify for a SAG card, but with sad, unmoving eyes, and one hand in pocket, he glumly dispenses with the martial-arty thugs who’ve been trying to auction off X’s booty—nuclear-power-enrichment facilitators—to a Benetton-ad roundup of “the world’s foremost arms dealers,” an oddly fashion-forward troupe who display more emotion in three bedazzled minutes than the two leads can muster in 90. —Jon Caramanica

Short Eyes
Directed by Robert M. Young (Castle Hill, opens March 7, at the Quad)

Dramatizing the fate of an alleged pedophile in the prison system, this 1977 film version of the Miguel Piñero play has finally been sprung from its cell of semi-obscurity. Confrontational for its time yet paltry next to any episode of Oz, Piñero’s slim moral quandary is stocked with glib sermonizing and unfocused characterizations, but Robert M. Young’s firmly anchored direction creates an appropriate chamber ambience. Confining all the action within two rooms of the Manhattan House of Detention, Short Eyes efficiently simulates a hum of dread—the soundtrack’s layer of faint shrieks and devilish chuckles is more captivating than any of the dialogue. The multiethnic and largely non-professional cast (including an Afro’d Luis Guzmán and Piñero himself) form a convincing ensemble in spite of the stagy machinations. In the central role, Bruce Davison (then and now, among the foremost character actors working) delivers every line as if on the verge of an uncontrollable sob. —Joe McGovern