Screenplay : Andrew Scheinman, Adam Scheinman and Tony Gilroy
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2000
Stars : Jamie Foxx (Alvin Sanders), David Morse (Edgar Clenteen), Doug Hutchison (Bristol), Robert Pastorelli (John Jaster), Kimberly Elise (Lisa Hill), David Paymer (Agent Wooly), Mike Epps (Stevie Sanders)
"Bait" is an action-crime thriller with a talented comedian uncomfortably grafted into the middle.
Jamie Foxx, who first made a name for himself on the Fox TV series "In Living Color" and has since shown dramatic potential with his solid performance as an ego-centric rising superstar in Oliver Stone's football epic "Any Given Sunday" (1999), occupies the movie's central role in a completely unconvincing manner. This is not Foxx's fault as a performer; rather, it is the fault of an unwieldy, badly paced script that doesn't know what it wants from its star. Part action hero, part smart-ass street punk, Foxx is never allowed to achieve a steady balance.
Foxx essentially attempts to do what Eddie Murphy did so successfully in "Beverly Hills Cop" (1984). In a role that was originally written for action star Sylvester Stallone, Murphy made it his own by simply taking over the movie. In "Bait," director Antoine Fuqua never allows Foxx the opportunity.
As he did in his directorial debut, the Hong Kong-inspired action flick "The Replacement Killers," which was an woefully unworthy American debut for Asian superstar Chow Yun Fat, Fuqua overloads "Bait" with a plethora of grating stylistic devices that never add up to a satisfactory whole. Heavy use of filters, sped-up photography, and action sequences filmed at such close proximity that they lose all semblance of space and coherence, the visual nature of "Bait" simply smothers any opportunity Foxx has to make it funny.
Foxx stars as Alvin Sanders, a small-time crook who gets caught up in an elaborate government plan to capture a high-tech thief who is looking for $42 million in government gold that his partner screwed him out of. How small-time a crook is Alvin? He steals shrimp (no, excuse me, prawn, which are essentially just extra-large shrimp). How elaborate is the government plan? So elaborate that its head honcho, a high-ranking treasury investigator named Edgar Clenteen (David Morse), manages to violate just about every aspect of the Bill of Rights in his pursuit of the villain. In fact, Morse's character becomes something of a villain himself, and it is a strained bit of narrative gymnastics by which the movie reconciles him and Alvin in the end.
The plot has Clenteen using Alvin as "bait" to lure out the gold thief, a psychotic computer hacker named Bristol, played by Doug Hutchison (who played the sadistic guard in "The Green Mile") as a kind of low-rent John Malkovich impersonation. The idea is that Clenteen will put Alvin out on the street and spread the word that he knows where the gold is hidden (something he does not know). Thus, Bristol will have to come out of the shadows at some point to force Alvin to give him the information.
To track Alvin's movements, Clenteen surreptitiously implants a tracking device in his jaw that allows a roomful of government agents to pinpoint Alvin's location anywhere in the world and also listen to everything that is going on in his life. Unfortunately, my mind kept getting caught up the dubious ethical (not to mention legal) ramifications of such a scenario, and I wondered how Clenteen would explain in court his ability to catch Bristol since it is based on a completely illegal scheme.
But, "Bait" is not concerned with such details. In fact, it doesn't seem to be concerned with much of anything at all other than its own surface shine and Foxx's limited chances to slip in wise-cracks and attitude. The script, by Andrew Scheinman ("North"), Adam Scheinman ("Little Big League"), and Tony Gilroy ("Armageddon") has a germ of a good idea, and I wonder if they intended a comedian in the mold of Eddie Murphy or Martin Lawrence as its protagonist.
From the tone of the resulting film, I suspect not, because Foxx's presence feels more like it was clumsily inserted rather than originating as an organic part of the larger whole. It's too bad because Foxx has great potential, as both a comedic and a serious actor. One can only hope that he will find better projects in the future on which to build his career.
©2000 James Kendrick