By Leah Rozen
March 10, 2003 12:00 PM

Jet Li, DMX, Gabrielle Union

Size has nothing to do with performance when it comes to Jet Li (Lethal Weapon 4). While clearly of diminutive stature and build, this Beijing-born action star is easily the most exciting martial arts battler in movies today. As he fends off multiple enemies with a single lightning-quick kick or hand-chop to each, his movements are elegant in their economy. So supreme are his abilities that half the time his hands rest at his sides or—and maybe my eyes deceive me here—lie casually buried in his pockets.

In the hard-driving but brainless action thriller Cradle 2 the Grave, Li plays a Taiwanese cop who has come to Los Angeles to recover a bag full of black diamonds that were stolen from his government. He teams with Tony Fait (DMX, born Earl Simmons), a jewel thief who has his own reasons for wanting to find the stones. The plot is perfunctory and the acting by both Li (whose English lines are minimal) and rapper-turned-actor DMX is only borderline passable. But Li’s fight scenes are sensational. Hard-core action fans will be gleeful as the movie overdoses on gunfire, car chases, crashes and male bonding while beating up a common enemy. (R)

BOTTOM LINE: We get a kick out of Li, but the movie stumbles over itself