xXx: State of the Union (2005) / Action-Thriller
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, language and some sexuality
Running time: 101 min.
Cast: Ice Cube, Samuel L. Jackson, Willem Dafoe, Scott Speedman, Peter Strauss, Xzibit, Michael Roof, Sunny Mabrey, Nona Gaye,
Director: Lee Tamahori
Screenplay: Simon Kinberg
Review published May 2, 2005
In his previous directorial effort, Die Another Day, Lee Tamahori (Along Came a Spider, The Edge) was accused of trying to make the James Bond franchise a little too much like XXX, an over-the-top, no holds barred action extravaganza. Luckily, the conventions of the Bond films handcuffed Tamahori from making it action from beginning to end with no substance, and a mostly successful film resulted. Unfortunately, these restraints are no longer in place now that Tamahori is directing the sequel to XXX, which not only is expected to have a cavalcade of action scenes, but being a sequel, he is expected to outdo the first one in every department. How do you increase the pyrotechnics quotient of what already was a film with little more than gunfire, explosions, and stunt work for about 75% of its running length? Tamahori's answer is to make it 90%.
Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, as the script from Simon Kinberg (Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Fantastic Four) features some of the most horrendous instances of dialogue I've heard in many a movie, so the less talking the better. On the other hand, laughing my ass off at each cheesy line actually provided about the only entertainment for me, as the only thing I could do for the duration of the film is to laugh at just how silly it truly is.
By the way, Xander Cage, the Vin Diesel character from the first XXX, is dead, as chronicled in the Director's Cut DVD of the first film, released to coincide with the theatrical release of State of the Union. This leaves NSA Agent Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson, Coach Carter) no choice but to find a new XXX agent, and one deadlier, meaner, and more talented. He has a man in mind, a former Nave SEAL called Darius Stone (Ice Cube, Are We There Yet?). Trouble is, Stone is only in year nine of his twenty year prison stint, but Gibbons is desperate enough to gamble a jail break. The country is in a crisis, as a possible coup d'etat is planned by the Secretary of State, General George Deckert (Dafoe, The Life Aquatic), and it's up to the new XXX and a ragtag group of criminal badasses to keep the country from falling into the hands of even more ruthless outlaws.
My feeling while watching this new XXX is that it's like watching a demo of one of the Grand Theft Auto series of video games. It has a heavy underpinning of anti-authoritarian sentiment, very reminiscent of the blaxploitation days of Hollywood cinema, with Ice Cube front and center, representing the epitome of take-no-crap macho gangster thug-life bravado. While this may score points among the hard-asses out there, who look up to carjackers, thieves, felons, and anyone just plain antisocial as role models, it does beg the question as to why these guys are willing to fight so hard to keep the government they feel is oppressing them intact.
Tamahori's style is to play everything to the point of absurdity, with physics and logic that would even strain the credulity of a Bugs Bunny cartoon. I could cite all of the examples that encroach into the realm of the unbelievable, but I fear I would be giving you a step-by-step synopsis of every single event that happens in this movie. Perhaps the single biggest test of intelligence comes in believing that the short and slightly pudgy Ice Cube could be the country's premier killing machine, given the fact that the most dangerous thing about him is his ability to sneer menacingly.
For all of its faults, I still am going to give State of the Union a slight edge to the first XXX, although I will concede that this feeling may have something to do with lower expectations. So be it -- the first film had me bordering on sleep for most of the duration, but at least this sequel was so absurd, I had a much better time laughing at every dumb action stunt and trite line of dialogue. If watching cut-scenes on video games, with all of the explosions and music video style editing that goes with them, are your thing, then you are probably the type of person who won't mind sitting and staring at nonstop explosions and destructive behavior playing out to hip hop or hard rock for almost two hours straight. No one else need apply, as this is strictly for gun porn and car porn aficionados. Who knew you'd need to bring a raincoat to a PG-13 movie??
Now I know why this series has the name of "XXX" -- high-budget moviemaking of this ineptitude should always be labeled as obscene.
©2005 Vince Leo