. "The Art of War"

The success of a movie like this is in the cleverness of the operations and one-upmanship between vying spheres of influence. In this case, it's between a hitherto unknown covert United Nations squad and just about all other national and international agencies. Violence knows no bounds in such escapades, nor do conspiracies, assassinations, digital effects, chases, acrobatism, double crosses, double-double crosses and... well, you know.

You know because you've seen it before, though this time, in "The Art of War" you're not likely to be disappointed. So long as you go into the theatre looking for these elements of action-espionage-fantasy, you'll get a good dose of the kicks you were looking for. Just don't expect reality.

Neil Shaw (Wesley Snipes) is a primary agent of the U.N. covert ops headed by Eleanor Hooks (Anne Archer) who works as second in command under the U.N. Secretary General Douglas Thomas (Donald Sutherland) who, by the way, is not unaware of the dirty tricks and tends to worry about them and what they might do to the reputation of his organization. As well he should.

We're introduced to the physical and mental prowess of our hero in an opening sequence that's capped by a James Bondian escape but falls far short of the kind of originality that series put a patent on. Still, it sets up the rest of the plot adequately as the intrigue and action centers around the question of a treaty with China. Who is behind what is the ever elusive question. Fortunately, Snipes' egocentrism is held at bay by the physical requirements of the action and there's a very nicely portrayed analytic power in the character (shades of Arnold!).

Into this steps the cute, standoffish Julia Fang (Marie Matiko) (why were the bad guys after her, again?) whom Shaw finds necessary to "protect" and who adds the required sexual tension (or slight suggestiveness of it) to the escapist mix.

Maury Chaykin is commendable as Capella, an off-beat, overly sensible FBI agent-in-charge. His wry, world-weary reactions to the events lends a nice sympathetic touch to the ensemble, while the hardened Bly (Michael Biehn) provides the all-important madly overcommitted competitiveness. Anne Archer conveys the unscrupulous intelligence of the femme-dominatrix with style.

"The Art of War" fills a need in the movie-going appetite and it's overall not a bad entry to the genre. The character parts are well enough drawn, with the time going mostly to the most interesting of the lot; the action is well conceived, choreographed and as non-stop as required; the cleverness of the story line is just good enough to put it in the pretty good category.

Estimated cost: $40,000,000. Projected U.S. boxoffice: $36,000,000.

Rated O, for Operational.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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