Andrzej Bartkowiak’s Romeo Must Die is not a great flick, but I still somehow enjoy it if only for a few stylish scenes and the presence of Aaliyah before her tragic and fateful plane crash, which tugs at the heartstrings. It’s a pseudo Romeo & Juliet tale involving her and Jet Li caught up in Asian/African American gang warfare, but it’s more just a silly showcase for Li’s impressive martial arts prowess and a playground for several well staged shootouts. Bartkowiak is actually responsible for two very similar films of this ilk, Cradle 2 The Grave and Exit Wounds, which all have the same cast members running about and when viewed in succession create some weird holy trinity of kung fu urban crime lore. This one is probably the best I suppose, or at least the most memorable. Aaliyah is reprimanded by her gangster father (Delroy Lindo) and his incompetent lieutenants (Isiaah Washington and Anthony Anderson), while rambunctious Li is supervised by some vague cousin of his (half-asian Russell Wong, definitely the coolest character), and DMX growls out a few lines as a violent club owner also somehow involved. The romance is fleeting, swallowed up by zippy editing and deafening action sequences that come fast and frequent. Li jumps around while the rest of them empty all kinds of firepower all over Vancouver, and so it goes. It ain’t great, but the opener set in DMX’s club during a raid perpetrated by Wong and his crew is the highlight and seems to have been plucked from a far better action film.
The Prophecy II continues around the same time the first entry left off, and while it’s not the same haunting, unique genre poem they managed with their first crack at it, it’s still got a few terrific things going for it, namely Christopher Walken. The guy is just charisma incarnate, and the implosive work he puts in as an angry, bitter Angel Gabriel in this franchise is some of the best I’ve ever seen from him. Gabriel is once again out to harm the humans, or ‘monkeys’ as he dryly puts it. The story is as murky as any self respecting Dimension films horror sequel should be, but from what I remember, an innocent human woman (Jennifer Beals) is impregnated by some sort of demi-angel named Danyael (Russell Wong), and the resulting birth will give humanity a kind of savior. Naturally, Walken tries to put a stop to this by hunting her down in appropriately scary fashion, and all sorts of schlocky supernatural hijinks ensue. It ain’t intellectual hour, but it’s held up very nicely by Walken, who clearly loves playing this character, and an eventual confrontation with Archangel Michael, played by Eric Roberts in what is delightfully inspired casting. The two of them have a quiet, focused exchange that elevates the material to near celestial heights which the film scarcely deserves. “How many world’s must burn before you’re satisfied?” Roberts inquires. “Just one. This one.” Walken purrs back. It’s a great scene and to this date the only time these two titans of the craft have shared the screen, and I’m thankful for it. Theres an amusing bit with Brittney Murphy, and a cameo by musician Glenn Danzig as well. The rest of the film is so so, but whenever Walken is there, baby it crackles.