Ty Burr
August 04, 2000 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Just as classic Hollywood musicals trucked specialty dancers in from Broadway to lend some pizzazz, modern action-dramas import specialty fighters from the ranks of Hong Kong cinema. They’re just not entirely up-front about it: In Romeo Must Die, Jet Li, star of such HK footfests as Fist of Legend, is ostensibly on hand to chastely romance R&B thrush Aaliyah, who plays the daughter of a San Francisco crime kingpin (Delroy Lindo) at war with the Chinese Mob. As an actor, though, Li comes across as a nice guy who’s still working the kinks out of his English, and Romeo snaps to attention only when he leaps into the fray. The resulting fight sequences are fluid, balletic, even witty — they make a case for Li as the Fred Astaire of the air — but there just ain’t enough of them, and, worse, they’ve been gussied up with computer-generated ”enhancements” that serve as an insult to Li’s natural grace. On paper, Romeo‘s a canny mix of hip-hop culture (rapper DMX plays a nightclub owner) and Hong Kong attitude. In the playing, it’s just another by-the-numbers crime melodrama blessed with sudden bursts of Jet power. C+

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