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'Bait' and switch: Thriller tries to hook audiences with a choppy mix of ingredients

Friday, September 15, 2000

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

If you were a super-smart, sociopathic criminal, would you join forces with an accomplice who has a bad ticker? And who has to reach for his nitroglycerin tablets while you're stealing $42 million in gold from the Federal Reserve in Manhattan?


RATING: R for language, violence and a scene of sexuality

STARRING: Jamie Foxx, David Morse, Doug Hutchison

DIRECTOR: Antoine Fuqua


CRITIC'S CALL: 2 1/2 stars


Right, me neither. But that's what a menacing mastermind by the name of Bristol (Doug Hutchison) does. He also finds himself without the gold after his partner Jaster (Robert Pastorelli) spirits away their truck because Bristol broke a promise and killed a couple of guards.

Jaster may have his own sense of twisted ethics, but he's stupid enough to get arrested for driving while intoxicated. And that is how Jaster meets Alvin Sanders (Jamie Foxx), a small-time crook and schnook who has been pinched for stealing shrimp. Or prawns, as he insists.

Before Jaster is interrogated to death by a U.S. Treasury investigator named Clenteen (David Morse), he gives Alvin the most mysterious of clues about the gold. He wants Alvin to tell his wife she should go to the Bronx Zoo and that "there's no place like home."

When Jaster's heart finally gives out, the investigator decides to turn Alvin into human bait. He has an experimental digital tracking device implanted into Alvin's jaw and then spreads the word that Alvin knows where the gold is. He figures Jaster's unknown partner will look for Alvin.

"Alvin Sanders is bait, that's all he is. When he serves his purpose, when he draws our man out of the shadows, well, you know what happens to bait," the dispassionate Clenteen says.

The problem is, the agents tracking Sanders take a shine to him -- and it's easy to see why. As played by Foxx, Sanders is a likable guy and he tries to go straight, even if his efforts are often misinterpreted. Alvin soon finds himself being tracked by the killer and the Feds, and then it's not just Alvin whose life is in jeopardy.

Foxx describes "Bait" as a "high-tech action thriller with some fun and comedy thrown in." The comedy, which Foxx does winningly, sometimes breaks the mood of the action. After having hot coffee poured on his almost naked body, Alvin makes a crack about anger management classes. Funny, but perhaps a little out of place.

"Bait," directed by Pittsburgh native Antoine Fuqua, can seem like a choppy mix of ingredients at times, as it segues from one genre and story to the next. You've got your gold heist story. Your ex-con trying to go straight and falling in with a bad crowd. Your ex-con illegally being monitored by high-tech toys. Your big action sequences, including high-speed chases by car, foot and hoof. And, of course, your psycho killer with a fondness for explosive devices. Drizzle with comedy and you've got "Bait."

In addition to starring Foxx, now scoring video fans with "Any Given Sunday," this action-comedy reunites two of the actors who played guards in "The Green Mile": Morse, specializing these days in muscle-bound cops or crooks, and Hutchison, the weaselly governor's nephew who eventually got his comeuppance. Hutchison looks entirely different here, with thick glasses and shorn hair. He seems to be doing a shorter, softer, less successful variation of various nutcases played by the master: John Malkovich.

A couple of key "Bait" sequences are so dark and shot so frenetically that it's almost hard to gauge what's happening. For others, the horror is accompanied by a Bach concerto. In the end, courtesy of a bright bonus payoff, all of the pieces finally fit together.

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