The Art of War II: Betrayal (2008) – Review

3 Stars

The Art of War II is directed by Josef Rusnak. A filmmaker that has had a curious career. His big screen films never took, yet he’s much too talented a craftsman to be stuck in the low rent world of straight to DVD action films. He’s like a David o’ Russell with a compelling inclination toward action thrillers. The Art of War II is the follow up to the minor hit from eight years ago. I have no idea why it took them almost a decade to package a sequel to an obviously franchise ready character. War 2 follows retired special agent Shaw, currently working as a technical advisor on an acton film. The star of the movie within a movie is a blockheaded ego maniac with a desire to run for senate (sound familiar Californian’s?). Soon after the actor makes his intentions to campaign public, embarrassing photos begin showing up in an effort to blackmail the star. He hires Shaw and his team to find out who’s behind the attempt to derail his political aspirations. This leads to a double-cross in which it appears that Shaw is responsible for murdering two senators. Forced to clear his name he springs into action and uncovers a web of conspiracy involving illegal arms sales.

The story and film do get bogged down in a lengthy party sequence at the midway point. Worst yet the entire payoff is a fight scene that is terribly under-lit, and amounts to shadows moving about quickly. Up to that point though War 2 is almost identical to the first film style wise and in production values. No small feat when working with a fraction of the budget. Ever since the first film debuted in the summer of 2000, a season in which MI-2 ruled the box office. I have always thought of this character as Snipes’ James Bond because he worked within a network of skilled professionals with varying areas of specialty, it felt closer to the IMF team.

In recent films Snipes has appeared tired and uninvolved. Under Rusnak’s direction he has seemingly been reinvigorated. It is appropriate that Snipes is blossoming within the collaboration. The Art of War 2 along with the pair’s first film, The Contractor, rank among some of the top B-movies of the last decade. In all the years Snipes was an active screen presence his only franchise or sequels were to the Blade series. Curious he has chosen to revisit the Shaw character, perhaps he plans on giving us a new War picture every few years. From the evidence here, I’d welcome that.

Director: Josef Rusnak
Stars: Wesley Snipes, Lochlyn Munro, Athena Karkanis

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