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Romeo Must Die

Aaliyah Sings “Try Again” ON the soundtrack of this love-and-bullets pulse pounder, and you better believe her. It’s try-again time for updating the Bard. Can Trish (Aaliyah, in an engaging acting debut), the daughter of African-American gang boss Isaac O’Day (Delroy Lindo), find love with Han Sing (Jet Li), the son of crime lord Chu (Russell Wong), her father’s sworn enemy? Hey, man, brush up your Shakespeare. From the minute Han, an ex-Hong Kong cop, arrives in California and sees Trish, you know there’s a place for them somewhere. Screw the mushy stuff. Thanks to producer Joel Silver (The Matrix), that place is in the crossfire as Isaac and Chu battle for control of the Oakland waterfront.

Sure, it’s hokey. But who needs iambic pentameter when you have Jet Li around? The Asian martial-arts legend is poetry in motion. Silver and Andrzej Bartkowiak, the noted cinematographer (Terms of Endearment), in his directing debut, keep the focus on the action. A wise move, considering that Li’s English is still hesitant and his voice sort of squeaks. As the villain in Silver’s Lethal Weapon 4, Li was a silent, stealthy presence. Here, making goo-goo eyes at Aaliyah, he loses some mystery. That is, until his fists and feet start flying – then, pow. The cast, with pros like Lindo rubbing elbows with tyros – rapper DMX dips a toe into acting waters – is mostly window dressing. The stunts are the stars here. Let Shakespeare top that.

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