After years of strip-mining headlines, the Hollywood action movie appears to be running red-alert low on raw materials. In Christian Duguay’s anonymous, muddled pileup The Art of War, a U.S.-China trade agreement is the macguffin of choice, a matter so crucial (“1.5 billion new customers!” the characters proclaim) that bodies on all sides drop like autumn apples. Neither cash nor power is at stake, precisely, just market share, and if this is the management-meeting-dull tenor of the new World Economy, I’ll take Dr. Evil’s “One Million Dollars!” straight up, to go. Wesley Snipes is a virtually indestructible covert agent (Energizer-bunny-like, he jumps from third-story windows onto concrete and keeps going, many times) working for the United Nations (!), a job that has Snipes first blackmailing Korean officials into returning to the treaty table by secretly videotaping their New Year’s blow jobs and then instantly plastering them across a Jumbotron before thousands of revelers.
If only it were amusing: Duguay’s grotesque excess of visual and aural noise squelches thought as it’s designed to; the movie’s sub-Tony Scott distraction strategy is even complemented by a Chomsky-esque political scenario that’s climactically conjured from nothing to assuage our notice of all those cold-blooded Asian killers. That is, if we’re not already razzled by the predictable arsenal of techno-gadgets, which leaves us with the impression that if Snipes wanted to jack into a top-secret mainframe by way of satellite-dialing your colon on his Devil Dog-sized cell phone, he could. On the run as an identity-free spy who can’t come in from the corpse-stacked cold, Snipes does a lot of bolting across rooftops and moping in parked cars when he isn’t snapping the necks of thugs he knows nothing about. After a while he picks up a petulant Chinese operative (Marie Matiko) for a requisite testy-respectful fugitive relationship as he evades the cops who want him for the few killings in the movie he didn’t commit. Far more preposterous in its details than the average blam-quip-kerplow, The Art of War isn’t helped by the performances; watching Anne Archer, as covert ops leader, read expository dialogue is like watching milk curdle in time-lapse.
Curdling also pegs Daryl Hannah’s self-mythologizing-or-bust turn as a mysterious, moody, “wild” painter of pretentious manure in Wildflowers, a movie ostensibly about the San Francisco ’60s and its various pond ripples as felt by a shy-but-“wild” teenage girl (Clea Duvall) searching for connection, closure, and—guess what?—her long-lost wayward mother. Look what aging, surly, marble-mouthed sprite comes to town. Robbed of its rightful Lifetime premiere on its supersonic trajectory to video, Melissa Painter’s movie is picturesque to the point of aneurysm: REM-inducing shots of the Pacific and song interludes (oh boy, Blues Traveler!) break up the vast awkward pauses between inarticulate characters. Duvall, one of the best things in every movie she’s in, is set adrift without a rudder. (She suffers the ultimate indignity for a young actress: a sex scene with Eric Roberts.) The sort of movie in which somebody can exclaim, “I want a funeral pyre!”, Wildflowers is the only brand of requiem the ’60s get anymore—worshipful and ass-backward.