Over the years, Warner Bros. has specialized in both making film noir and (more recently) targeting African-American audiences. Thus, Jamie Foxx toplines this neo-noir, although race is rarely an issue in Bait. The star of TV's 'The Jamie Foxx Show' and Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday plays Alvin Sanders, a small-time thief who gets inadvertently involved in a national-security operation. After being arrested for a petty crime, Alvin learns some secrets from his jailmate, Jaster (Robert Pastorelli), one of two culprits behind a Federal Reserve gold heist. Then, Jaster dies in custody, and U.S. Treasury agent Clenteen (David Morse) sets Alvin free in the hope of luring Jaster's at-large accomplice, Bristol (Doug Hutchison).
But Alvin doesn't realize the extent he is helping the government; Clenteen arranges an 'accident' that lands Alvin in the hospital, where the doctors install a transistor monitoring device in his mouth during surgery. Thereafter, Clenteen and his team trace Alvin's every move through a state-of-the-art surveillance machine. Thus, Alvin becomes the live 'bait' needed to catch the crook, but Alvin's further scrapes with the law and Bristol's sociopathic trickery give trouble to Clenteen's crew. After many chases and near-death incidents, Clenteen finds and kills Bristol and Alvin is free from duty-for real.
Bait resembles the on-the-lam chase stories of yesteryear's past-The Fugitive, Out of Bounds and Run-crossed with the more recent high-tech peep shows, EDtv, The Truman Show and 'Big Brother.' Despite shades of The Manchurian Candidate and The Conversation, Bait utilizes the surveillance gimmick primarily as a source of humor (one of the film's big laughs comes as the team listens in on Alvin and his girlfriend making love), and the screenplay by Andrew and Adam Scheinman and Tony Gilroy neither creates an expected feeling of paranoia nor sees much wrong in the post-Orwellian invasion of privacy.
On style points, director Antoine Fuqua (The Replacement Killers) uses repeated close-ups in every scene-a technique borrowed from The Naked Runner (like The Manchurian Candidate, another Sinatra picture from the 1960s). But in Bait, the synecdoche makes the action, particularly the fights and chases, difficult to comprehend at times. Matters are not helped by the incessantly dark lighting.
At least Jamie Foxx saves the day (or is it the night?) with a savvy, charming performance as the not-so-bad antihero. The other cast members are just perfunctory, but Foxx reacts to the stock situations and his fellow performers like a hip-hop Bob Hope, putting a fresh spin on the tired clichs. Folks will soon forget Bait, but Foxx should have a rewarding career ahead of him in better films.