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[whitespace] On the Lam: Wesley Snipes is driven to clear his name in 'The Art of War.'

The Art of Imitation

Wesley Snipes' 'The Art of War' borrows from every conspiracy thriller that ever made it to the big screen

By Jim Aquino

IN THE NEW B-MOVIE POTBOILER The Art of War, Wesley Snipes, who also co-produced, plays a member of a team of American agents who pull off impossible missions so covert not even their superior, the U.N. secretary general (Donald Sutherland), is aware of them. When unknown conspirators commit a series of murders to halt the signing of a Sino-American trade treaty, they frame Snipes, who goes on the lam and tries to clear his name with the help of a U.N. translator (feisty newcomer Marie Matiko) who knows he's innocent.

The Art of War rips off almost every single conspiracy thriller of the last decade, from Mission: Impossible to Snake Eyes to Enemy of the State. It even recycles the government-agent-on-the-lam premise of Snipes' second-rate Fugitive spinoff, U.S. Marshals. There hasn't been a big-studio second-string actioner that's been so shameless about borrowing from other thrillers since 1997's Breakdown, in which director Jonathan Mostow lifted elements from Duel and The Vanishing.

But Mostow did it with class, while The Art of War is stuck with B-list Canadian director Christian Duguay, who resorts to tiresome Asian-sleazebag villains and doesn't allow us to fully appreciate the skillful choreography of Snipes' Hong Kong-style fight sequences (Snipes is a Hong Kong action devotee) because he cuts too fast and obscures the action with too much rain--there's so much of it that the film makes Blade Runner look like Beach Blanket Bingo. The charismatic, agile and no-nonsense Snipes is the glue that keeps this wobbly actioner together; he would have made a better lead in this summer's Mission: Impossible sequel than vain, floppy-hair-flipping Tom Cruise.

The Art of War (R; 117 min.), directed by Christian Duguay, written by Wayne Beach and Simon Davis Barry, photographed by Pierre Gill and starring Wesley Snipes, Marie Matiko and Donald Sutherland, plays in Aptos at Aptos Cinemas, in Santa Cruz at Santa Cruz Cinema 9 and in Watsonville at the Fox Theatre.

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From the date-date, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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