Before we all have yet another laugh at Wesley Snipes’s expense, let’s first look back to the early 1990s when he was an boundlessly talented young actor knocking it out the box in movies like New Jack City, King of New York, Mo’ Better Blues and Neal Jimenez’s excellent (and inexplicably ignored) The Waterdance. It’s easy to forget that Snipes was, for a few years, one of the most exciting performers of his generation; however, once he got a taste of action hero success with the average Passenger 57 ("Always bet on black"), he was lost. In five years time, a Wesley Snipes star vehicle was indistinguishable from a Jean-Claude Van Damme programmer.
So when I first heard that Snipes had been cast as the lead in Spike Lee’s upcoming WWII film, Miracle at St. Anna, I figured it was about goddamn time the wayward actor got his bearings back and dragged himself out of the direct-to-DVD morass to which he’d been consigned thanks to a series of idiotic business decisions and, worst of all, charges of tax fraud. Unfortunately, these entanglements have proved too inextricable; Snipes has been forced to pull out of Miracle at St. Anna because he is currently without a valid passport. So much for that comeback.
His loss is Derek Luke’s gain, which makes little sense given that Luke is a good twelve years younger than Snipes. Still, Luke will play one of four Buffalo Soldiers who get trapped behind enemy lines in Italy during World War II. Joining Luke in the James McBride scripted drama are James Gandolfini, John Turturro, Michael Ealy, Omar Benson and Tory Kittles.
Though I’m disappointed that Snipes won’t get a shot at a comeback role, I’m still giddy at the thought of Spike Lee directing a war movie. This is probably the point in Spike’s career when he starts thinking about legacy. Having turned fifty earlier this year, I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts getting friendlier with the Academy voters who denied him in his prime. This is the tradeoff. Maybe one day Snipes will get his legal troubles settled and pursue the same kind of artistic validation/compromise; it can’t get any worse than The Detonator.