Feeding time for Foxx hounds

Movie: Bait

Our Rating: 3.50

In "Bait," the talented Jamie Foxx has plenty of opportunity to flex his trademark comic persona: the swaggering braggart who puckers into a toady when confronted with true authority.

That portrayal (first explored on TV's "In Living Color," alongside the pratfalls of Jim Carrey and various Wayans brothers) doesn't necessarily imply stupidity. But in playing an inept thief, Foxx pushes the routine way past cluelessness and into "Dumb & Dumber" territory.

At one juncture, his Alvin Sanders risks prison to steal shrimp, a theft he justifies because the booty are actually prawns, or "shrimps on steroids." Later, he applies for a job at a diner he's previously robbed, despite the fact that his victim has already picked him from a police lineup.

Ultimately, however, Alvin summons enough mental aptitude to foil a $42 million bullion robbery, save thousands of people from a huge explosion and utterly thwart the movie's villain, a high-tech criminal named Bristol (Doug Hutchinson).

He also outsmarts a group of federal agents led by U.S. Treasury investigator Edgar Clenteen and his agent Wooly (veteran character actors David Morse and David Paymer, respectively). The movie's central gimmick has them implanting a microphone-transmitter in Alvin's jaw so he can lead them to the bad guy. As an unintended side result, they're constantly eavesdropping on -- ahem -- unofficial conversations.

Clearly, these misadventures are targeted at viewers who still look forward to their birthdays. But the primary mission here is to give Foxx a starring role that will move him into the coveted land of the crossover, putting him in the company of Martin Lawrence, Chris Rock and other kings and would-be kings of comedy.

Foxx has already proven himself a worthy candidate for such a breakthrough. He gave sturdy support as a pro quarterback in "Any Given Sunday" and did good in ensemble work in "Booty Call." "Bait" isn't likely to serve him as well as "Big Momma's House" served Lawrence, but it'll likely give his career a boost of some degree.

Aiding in that effort is director Antoine Fuqua, the showy ex-video whiz who brought considerable razzle-dazzle to the 1998 bullet-fest "The Replacement Killers." Here, Fuqua makes quite a visual impression with blurs and strobe-light effects that alternatively hasten and halt the otherwise nonstop action. A contrasty, black-white motif and a penchant for putting its most interesting faces in extreme close-up make "Bait" look even more expensive than it probably is.

That's not to say that it doesn't wear out its welcome. A huge middle section sags unnecessarily, and the numerous subplots (we could do with about three less) make the film run far too long. This is an 85-minute caper that's been allowed to swell to nearly two hours for no apparent reason.

If nothing else, "Bait" reasserts Foxx's possibilities as an actor who can carry a movie on his own. Hopefully, his next project will have him doing more than striking silly poses that work once but are required to be repeated ad infinitum. His fans may be satisfied with the schtick, but the rest of us have the right to expect a little something extra.

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