It's East meets West as slick, gun-totin', black underground businessmen battle it out with their Japanese counterparts who use their bodies as weapons in the new action flick, "Romeo Must Die."
Normally, one would expect the guns to win out, but that would make for a quick and boring film. Instead, filmmaker Andrzej Bartkowiak, who unfortunately brought us Lethal Weapon 4, uses martial arts for all they're worth.
With the name Romeo in the title, there's some connection with the literary classic. As Asian and African-American gangs attempt to gain control of the California waterfront, potential lovers from either side join forces to bring an end to the murdering madness that claims the lives of their respective siblings. Soon both Han (Jet Li) and Trish (Aaliyah) realize there's as much of a battle going on within family as without.
Despite the star power provided by music sensation Aaliyah and the talent of critically acclaimed actor Delroy Lindo (who plays Isaak O'Day, Trish's father), the real star of "Romeo" is the action. With a predictable plot and clichéd characters in abundance, Bartkowiak is clearly aiming to attract hip-hop fans as well as Asian-cinema addicts, and the movie does deliver some dazzling sequences. But as for depth of character, plot and a modern-day spin on the love story, Shakespeare has nothing to worry about. This "Romeo" is neither captivating nor tragic, and the star-crossed lovers exchange only innocent glances and hugs, not stirring dialogue.
Li, who had a supporting role in "Lethal Weapon 4," is perplexingly bumped up to leading man status. Although he is cute, charming and a whiz at the martial arts, that may not be enough to compensate for his lack of the stature and screen presence that are usually necessary to carry the mantle of "action hero."
Those approaching "Romeo" would do well to set themselves low expectations for story, substance and mildly entertaining adventure. Even then, they should proceed with caution.