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"Bait' has no lure

Walk along a fishing pier at low tide and you'll know what Bait smells like.

I hope that remark isn't insulting to dead fish.

Bait is a caper comedy without a single original idea going for it. What it does have is Jamie Foxx, a funny guy who shouldn't need to rip off Will Smith and Martin Lawrence (who essentially stole from Eddie Murphy) to be a movie star.

Foxx plays Alvin Sanders, a small-time thief busted early for stealing shrimp, or prawns, as he continually corrects everyone. That's an amusing bit to hook an audience, with Foxx establishing his character as a self-con artist, streetwise without the second syllable of that description.

Alvin goes to prison, sharing a cell with a crook busted for his involvement in a nondescript heist of gold bullion. His roomie dies, after giving Alvin a clue about where the fortune is stashed. Treasury agents and the robbery's leader, Bristol (David Hutchison), want that information.

The result is an unreasonable facsimile of Smith's Enemy of the State and Lawrence's Blue Streak. Alvin is set free with a homing device implanted in his jaw, placing him under constant government surveillance. Bristol begins stalking Alvin, believing he's a cop who knows where the loot is located. Alvin is unaware of his trackers or the gold's location, setting up close calls and broad leaps of logic.

Director Antoine Fuqua (The Replacement Killers) makes Bait's action sequences so stylized that they become confusing. The camera always pulls in too tight, the motion jumbled by rapid edits and abridged film frames. There is never time to soak in what's happening until it's over. It's a sloppy disguise for standard mayhem.

Memo to Fuqua: A fuel truck skidding sideways into the camera is surpassing the smashed fruit stand among modern car chase cliches. Think of something else.

Duplication doesn't end there. Hutchison's performance is straight from the John Malkovich school of soft-spoken psychopaths, from his bald, bespectacled appearance to the regular eruptions of temper. David Morse and David Paymer imitate anyone who ever carried a badge in the background of a movie, grimly plodding until the obligatory booby-trap crisis comes along.

Somehow, Foxx comes out of this mess still looking good. His throwaway humor is intact, if not enhanced by a lackluster script. A subplot involving Alvin's girlfriend (Kimberly Elise) and their new son enables Foxx to sharpen his serious-actor chops until a better role comes along. Foxx is the only reason to see Bait, and no reason to rush it.

Bait

Grade: D

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Cast: Jamie Foxx, David Morse, Doug Hutchison, Kimberly Elise, Mike Epps, David Paymer

Screenplay: Andrew Scheinman, Adam Scheinman, Tony Gilroy

Rating: R; profanity, violence, sexual situations

Running time: 118 min.

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