Eric D. Snider

Bait

The result of trying to mix two genres of film is often that you fail at both of them. "Bait" is a prime example of this, a film that could have been either a decent paranoia-action thriller, or an entertaining comedy about an ex-con being used unwillingly by the government. But it simply cannot be both.

Alvin Sanders (Jamie Foxx, whose transformation into Martin Lawrence is now complete) is a small-time crook who does some time for robbing a seafood restaurant. He spends a few hours as cellmates with John Jaster (Robert Pastorelli), who helped with a huge gold heist and is the only one who knows the whereabouts of the loot. Not even his former partner in the scheme, the murderous Bristol (Doug Hutchison), knows where the stuff is, and that's how John wants it: John ditched him half-way through the heist anyway, once he saw just how evil the guy was.

Trouble is, John is a heart patient and dies, taking the secret of the lost gold with him to the grave. Enter the government -- specifically, hard-nosed Treasury Department agent Clenteen (David Morse), who says Bristol could use the same technology he used to bust into the Federal Reserve to launch nuclear missiles, too, or something like that. Point is, he's dangerous beyond mere thievery, and so the government should expend every possible effort to find him.

What do they do? First, they knock Alvin unconscious and implant a tracking device in his jaw (which leaves no scar, by the way, and which does not affect his ability to grow a thin beard in that spot). Then they let word leak out that Alvin knows where the gold is. This, they figure, will draw Bristol out and they can catch him.

Why not put the tracking device in an undercover cop and spread the same false rumor? Why not just ASK Alvin -- who clearly will do anything for money -- if he'll help out his country? These are the questions that you normally overlook if an action movie is exciting enough ("Face/Off" was impossible, but was a pretty fun movie; same with "Eraser," "Die Hard," etc., etc). But every time Alvin makes a wisecrack, you're brought back to reality, and the reality is that the film makes little sense.

Nor is it very funny. The comedy premise is that if the movie presents us with typical action-flick situations and then skewers them by having Alvin crack jokes during the tense moments, well, then, that's funny. But it becomes more annoying than anything. Doug Hutchison, who did fine work in "The X-Files" and "The Green Mile," gets to be creepy again here, and just as he's laying it on thick, out comes Jamie Foxx with another joke, thus ruining the moment. (And it's hard to laugh at the joke, either, since it seems so out of place.) I kept thinking: Jamie, you've got a gun to your head. Enough with the one-liners!

While the violence in the film is not abundant, there is one particular instance that is gratuitous. The idea is to show how evil Bristol is -- but again, when you're trying to be funny, too, you can't get away with disturbing behavior like that simultaneously.

At one point, Foxx does an impression of Muhammed Ali, all shaky and disease-ridden. This may be in poor taste, but at least it's edgy, especially considering the gag that precedes it is an impression of Mike Tyson, in which Foxx pretends to bite a guy's ear off.

That's the best you can do? I'll take rude comedy over trite comedy any day.

Foxx is a talented performer, and he has a charm about him. But this mix of comedy and action doesn't blend well, and he can't pull it off. Both halves of the combination would need to be reworked and improved before "Bait" could be anything above average.

Grade: C+

Rated R, abundant harsh profanity, some vulgarity, an overheard sex scene with some partial nudity, a few scenes of semi-disturbing violence

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