Rated R - Running Time: 1:59 - Released 9/15/00

Jamie Foxx is one of the growing number of black comedians who have launched a career fom the highly successful In Living Color television variety show created in 1990 by Keenen Ivory Wayans et al. Foxx is a talented comedian with an excellent sense of timing, but his latest venture is a film suffering from a number of maladies. Directed by Antoine Fuqua, written by Andrew and Adam Scheinman and Tony Gilroy, Bait is an overwrought, overlong action comedy with a conflict of styles and a lack of likable characters.

Featuring Foxx as Alvin Sanders, a petty criminal who somehow serves 18 months in jail for stealing shrimp, the premise of Bait is that Alvin will be used as an unwitting spy by the FBI in order to catch a criminal genius who killed two guards at the treasury department while stealing $40 million in gold bars. Since the killer's accomplice (Robert Pastorelli) dies before he can reveal where he hid the loot, the unnamed baddie (Doug Hutchison, The Green Mile) must attempt to get the information from Alvin, who was the doomed man's cellmate. The FBI agent (David Morse) expects this, so a listening device is implanted in Alvin's jaw to track the killer if he takes the bait. Get it?

The problem with Bait is that it's hard to get behind any of these characters. I guess the main protagonist is supposed to be Alvin, but Foxx plays him as such a dimwitted, dishonest schmuck, especially in the scenes with his extra-loopy brother Stevie (Mike Epps), that you just can't help rooting for him to go down. Hutchison is so busy doing a John Malkovich impersonation as the killer, he's got me wishing for Malkovich. Meanwhile, Morse plays the FBI guy like some kind of irate action hero whose tights are riding up, and his script doesn't help him any. "Welcome aboard," he says. "As of this moment, you no longer exist." Ack.

And that brings us to the conflict of styles. Director Fuqua, whose only previous project to date has been The Replacement Killers (1998), a plotless shoot-em-up in the Hong Kong mold, has trouble deciding whether he wants an action comedy or a straight cop shootout thriller. He directs Foxx and Epps to ham it up like a couple of homeboys in a ghetto comedy, but everything else in the film is deadpan serious — dark, even, with Morse alienating us more in each passing scene. Add to this the unlikely premise of the high-tech tracking device being implanted in Alvin's jaw (without his knowing it, of course) and the excessive length (2 hours is too long for a comedy or a cop thriller), and you've got yourself a regular squirm fest. I kept hoping this was going to be the scene where they wrap it up, but then another action sequence would start, punctuated by Morse's angry scenery chewing or some idiotic schtick by Foxx. Now I know how Dr. Zhivago felt when he was looking for Lara. Somewhere, my love, there will be the end credits.

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

See Current Reviews | See FilmQuips Archive