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Fishing for laughs
Throw back 'Bait,' fish for something better
(CNN) -- Jamie Foxx can be a pretty funny guy, in short little bursts. His comic persona is that of a would-be street-tough whose desperate braggadocio camouflages a lily-livered soul.
Foxx has also shown signs of being a decent actor. He gave a surprisingly authoritative performance as a cocky NFL quarterback in Oliver Stone's football-centric tantrum, "Any Given Sunday" (1999).
But "Bait," Foxx's new techno-crime comedy-drama, is so outlandish you actually feel sorry for him. Super-lousy sitcom roots or not, he deserves better than this.
You deserve better, too, regardless of your sitcom background.
Foxx stars as Alvin Sanders, a New York City hood who gets nabbed by the cops for breaking into a seafood warehouse. In one of the movie's few amusing pieces of dialogue, Alvin acts like he's some kind of criminal mastermind because he's stealing prawns, which he views as a fancier type of shrimp.
While he's robbing the warehouse, there's a legitimate big-league heist going down over at the New York Federal Gold Reserve. One of the thieves, a computer whiz named Bristol (Doug Hutchison), kills a couple of guards. His partner John (Robert Pastorelli, in a cameo) was told there wouldn't be any guns, so he takes off running. Soon, John is captured and brutally interrogated by detective Edgar Clenteen (David Morse, growling and stalking like a bear in a business suit).
Alvin and John end up in the same holding cell. When John dies of a heart attack, the cops figure that Bristol, who seems to know everything about everybody because he's got lots of computers in his apartment, will be coming after Alvin. Bristol thinks that Alvin's cellmate may have told him where some gold was hidden before he croaked. That sounds like a decent enough plot, but it quickly degenerates into nonsense.
Clenteen sees to it that Alvin gets knocked out by another inmate in the prison courtyard. Then Alvin is sent to an operating room where a small homing device is planted in his jaw. This enables Clenteen and a team of electronics experts to track Alvin and hear his conversations. Apparently, it's not enough for the police to simply tail him in an unmarked car. They also have to know when he's chewing.
Alvin is released from prison before he's officially done doing his time, then the cops sit back and wait for Bristol to show up.
Upon release, Alvin discovers that his girlfriend (Kimberly Elise) has given birth to their child. Alvin can't find a job because of his criminal record, so he turns to his petty-thief brother, Stevie (Mike Epps). The cops are afraid that Alvin will return to a life a crime before Bristol finds him, so they send him an unexplained government check for $5,000, then drop a book bag stuffed full of cash in his lap.
This is supposed to feel like an elaborate, paranoid scam, like the one in the Michael Douglas picture, "The Game" (1997). Well, it is like "The Game": Both films are patently absurd.
Director Antoine Fuqua, who helmed the far more watchable "The Replacement Killers" (1998), serves up every cliche in the book.
There must be an entire community of technicians in Hollywood who do nothing but design fancy computer screens that have graphics zipping and zapping all over them. The team of investigators tracking Foxx have banks of pointless monitors at their disposal. They don't just listen in on Alvin; they break his voice down into sound waves. Then the little squiggly lines are broadcast across a row of 50-inch TV screens.
Same old plot...
The headset-wearing technicians smirk as if they're successfully cheating on an important test ... which they are, to certain degree. All of this new technology is supposed to be extremely illegal, but nobody seems too intimidated by the possible jail time.
One would imagine that cinematographer Tobias Schliessler spent the majority of his work-day saying, "Turn on the big blue light." Practically every scene has the ice-blue glow of hackdom laid over it. If you weren't paying close attention, you'd swear that you were watching the recently released "The Art of War" or "Enemy of the State" (1998).
Of course, convincing audiences that they're watching the same movie they saw three weeks ago is the unspoken goal of modern Hollywood. That way no one gets into trouble for trying something new, and the audience can ease right into the action without fooling around with complex establishing material or thoughtful characterizations.
There should also be a moratorium on brilliant criminals who speak like HAL the computer in "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968). Hutchison plays the bad guy in "Bait" to the predictable hilt. His soothing monotone never wavers, unless he's suddenly blowing his stack and firing spittle-filled verbiage at a captured adversary. By the time he and Foxx end up in a truly ludicrous chase scene at a horse track, you'll be wondering if his genius has been overtaken by a sudden bout of mental retardation. He might not be so angry if he'd spend less time designing colorful computer monitors to attach to his time bombs. That would leave him with room for recreation, and he might even be able to find a girlfriend.
"Bait" contains profanity, sex, and violence, because it's a movie. Be sure to note Foxx's ingenious plan for escaping the bad guy. It involves a toy egg that makes squawking noises, an antsy racehorse, and an industrial-strength suspension of disbelief. Rated R. 120 minutes.
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