Christian Duguay's 2000 thriller The Art of War grossed a little over $30 million against an estimated budget of $40 million -- no runaway success, but no tremendous flop, either. I can only guess that the film did boffo business on DVD, because there's no other justification that I can find for this abysmal, straight-to-DVD sequel that feels so painfully contrived and unnecessary.
The Art of War II: Betrayal feels like the nadir -- if not, it's awfully close -- of Wesley Snipes' career; a glance at his filmography from eight years ago, when the first War hit theaters, reveals an actor that was still in demand -- Blade II was around the corner, as were the underrated Liberty Stands Still and Undisputed -- but now, it's a string of "The" titles signifying a career in freefall: The Marksman, The Detonator, The Contractor.
Of course, if Snipes could somehow reverse course and work himself back into Hollywood's good graces, he'd probably be able to stop saying yes to every lame-brain script that comes along. The Art of War II: Betrayal ostensibly picks up well after the original ended, with Snipes returning as government operative Neil Shaw, now earning a living as a consultant for Hollywood action films. The murder of his mentor draws Neil out of his routine but places him in the midst of more lethal political intrigue, involving shady senators. If you've never seen a flick of this sort before, only then might you be surprised by the outcome of the narrative.
I'm sure director Josef Rusnak is a swell guy (along with writers Jason Bourque and Keith Shaw) but collectively, these three make one nearly unwatchable piece of cinema. From the stilted line readings to the giggle-inducing CGI, The Art of War II: Betrayal will prove grueling to all but the most undemanding 12-year-old. It's barely fit for cable (although it's not hard to see this movie fitting snugly in the 2 a.m. rotation) and hardly worth anyone's hard-earned cash, let alone those scant few who enjoyed the first Art of War.
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, this anamorphic widescreen transfer suffers from many of the problems inherent when filming in high-def digital video -- smearing, softness and digital noise. Several shots intended to be oh-so-stylish end up looking like crap because of the image quality (more a fault of the filming than the transfer). Overall, it looks iffy more often than not; your tolerance for the flaws that come with DV will decide how pleasing you find this image.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track gets a chance to show off frequently, with explosions, body blows and gunfire, as well as allowing Peter Allen's supremely cheesy '80s-action-flick score a chance to breathe. Optional Spanish and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are included, as are optional French and Thai Dolby 2.0 stereo tracks. A veritable global bonanza of subtitles options -- English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai -- are also included.
The only bonus features, aside from a PC-only digital copy of the film, are some extended fight scenes and trailers for other Sony films.
From the stilted line readings to the giggle-inducing CGI, The Art of War II: Betrayal will prove grueling to all but the most undemanding 12-year-old. It's barely fit for cable (although it's not hard to see this movie fitting snugly in the 2 a.m. rotation) and hardly worth anyone's hard-earned cash, let alone those scant few who enjoyed the first Art of War. Skip it.