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Movie Review

Slick 'Bait' Traps Jamie Foxx in an Unchallenging Pastiche

September 15, 2000|GENE SEYMOUR | FOR THE TIMES

The techno-sleek veneer of "Bait" isn't thick enough to hide the hand-me-downs littered over its landscape. Those who cobbled together this star vehicle for Jamie Foxx--who's earned the chance, after all, by running away with last year's Oliver Stone pro-football epic, "Any Given Sunday"--don't seem bothered that they've lifted slabs of "Enemy of the State" and meshed them unevenly with slivers of every chase comedy-thriller ever made: good, bad and (mostly) indifferent.

Foxx deserved better, and watching him make his way through this muddle, one gets the feeling that maybe he thought so too. His brand of sidelong spritzing and off-the-cuff commentary on the action generally come across in a lower key and with a sneakier edge than those of other comics upgrading their movie profile. Here, he seems bored with his own riffing, grappling for a breadth and poignancy in his character, the hapless thief Alvin Sanders. In doing so, the story keeps out of reach.

But the movie has no more respect for Foxx's Sanders than the U.S. Treasury agents, led by a dour hardhead with the curious name of Clenteen (David Morse). The Feds bend, fold and mutilate Sanders into an unknowing search engine for a homicidal hacker (Doug Hutchison), who stole $42 million in gold from the U.S. Federal Reserve.

Antoine Fuqua, who directed 1998's equally slick and numbingly derivative "The Replacement Killers," smears this ostensibly comic narrative with flashy crosscuts, claustrophobia-inducing close-ups and digitalized effects intended to show the dimensions to which the Feds are keeping track of him. It would have been nice if the script had teased funnier possibilities than the inexplicable sums of money literally dropping into Sanders' hands to keep him on the streets, where the hacker can get to him. But what little humor there is in the movie becomes subservient to the grisly violence, gratuitous cruelty and ugly car chases.

You leave the theater carrying what feels like a low-grade fever with unwanted tremors and mild delirium. Maybe it's that fever talking, but I imagine that it will all turn out for the best, ultimately. Foxx will get another, better property--perhaps one from hard-boiled novelist-screenwriter John Ridley, who came up with the story for "Three Kings" and writes novels whose titles alone ("Everybody Smokes in Hell") are a lot funnier than anything in this movie. Fuqua, meanwhile, will get the chance to be Michael Bay when, and if, he grows up. And "Bait" will be remembered, if at all, as a bad patch in both of their careers.

* MPAA rating: R, for language, violence and a scene of sexuality. Times guidelines: It's the violence that's the most graphic here; the language and sexuality are standard for this type of film.


Jamie Foxx: Alvin Sanders

David Morse: Edgar Clenteen

Doug Hutchison: Bristol

Kimberly Elise: Lisa Hill

A Castle Rock Entertainment presentation, released by Warner Bros. Director Antoine Fuqua. Producers Sean Ryerson. Executive producers Tony Gilroy, Jaime Rucker King. Screenplay by Andrew Scheinman & Adam Scheinman and Tony Gilroy. Cinematographer Tobias Schliessler. Editor Alan Edward Bell. Costume designer Delphine White. Music Mark Mancina. Art director Peter Grundy. Set decorator John Rose. Running time: 1 hour, 59 minutes.

In general release.

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