[Written for Film.com]
The plot is convoluted, so stick with me. A two-bit thief, Jamie Foxx, is busted for a robbery at a seafood plant—he had a briny notion to steal shrimp and sell ’em as scampi. The guy spends half a day in a cell with a much more ambitious thief (Robert Pastorelli), who’s gotten away with 42 million bucks’ worth of government gold bars; during his heist, he betrayed a brainiac partner (Doug Hutchison). Like the feds, Hutchison would like to know where the gold is buried. But Pastorelli dies in custody, from a heart ailment.
Which makes Foxx, suddenly, a person of interest. Because Pastorelli must have imparted some deathbed clue about the location of the gold, right? He did, but his message—“go to the Bronx Zoo”—is as mysterious to Foxx as it is to the police.
So here’s what brutal federal agent David Morse decides to do. They’ll plant a super-sophisticated microphone/homing device in Foxx’s jaw (unbeknownst to him), and send him back out on the street. That way, he can be the bait, easily tracked from a command post of computer banks, large-screen video, and satellite technology. When bad guy Hutchison comes out of hiding to ask Foxx about the gold, the cops will swoop in and pick him up.
Uh-huh. So you’re sitting there watching Bait, and some of the action stuff is passable, and Jamie Foxx gets off a few funny bits of improvised business. But the plausibility meter has gone way off the charts. I don’t mean the jaw-implant thing; that’s fine, this is a movie, we can buy technological gizmos existing even if they seem far-fetched. No, the problem is that big command center (built along the lines of the War Room in Dr. Strangelove), and the huge staff of people working there ’round the clock, and the incredibly complex equipment in use. It’s all being focused on one little suspect?
No way. Although the plot throws in Hutchison coldbloodedly killing two security guards during the gold heist, that isn’t quite enough to make the pursuit remotely believable. (He can’t even tell the cops where the gold is.) The filmmakers’ sense of scale—hey! let’s make this place huge and hi-tech, so all the 15-year-olds will dig it—is completely untethered to any sense of logic or reality. The only thing that begins to justify this expense and obsession is Hutchison’s performance: nerdy and baby-faced, he whispers his way through his evil role like a junior Malkovich. (Hutchison was last seen, opposite David Morse, stomping on Mr. Jingles in The Green Mile.)
Another good actor, albeit wasted, is Kimberly Elise, from Beloved. She’s—take a wild guess—Foxx’s girlfriend. Foxx, last seen in the underrated Held Up, and as a much more convincing pro football quarterback than Keanu Reeves in Any Given Sunday, makes a so-so bid for leading-man status. Director Antoine Fuqua, who debuted with the disastrous Replacement Killers, doesn’t help him; Fuqua is in love with slick surfaces and Cuisinart editing, but the actors look awful and the action makes no sense. Thus the script, by the usually reliable Tony Gilroy (Devil’s Advocate), is left buried just as surely as those very unlikely gold bars.