Cole Smithey - Reviews: XXX: State Of The Union
 
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XXX: State Of The Union

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Death of a Franchise

Ice Cube And Company Can't Fill Vin Diesel's Shoes
By Cole Smithey

In light of the cinematic abomination that is “XXX: State Of The Union,” Vin Diesel made the right decision by refusing to do another “xXx” movie unless Rob Cohen (“The Fast And The Furious”) continued to direct the franchise. Where the initial “xXx” (2002) showed promise in developing a James Bond styled action hero of an American multi-culti bent, this damp towel sequel fails at every turn. Non-action-hero Ice Cube (“Barbershop”) plays Darius Stone, a convict with a bad attitude who is extricated from prison by National Security bad-ass Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) to take arms against a military-led coup attempt on the White House. Yawn. Although the storyline is ripe for social satire, given the current occupation of the presidential chair by an usurping party, screenwriters Rich Wilkes (“xXx”) and Simon Kinberg (“Mr. And Mrs. Smith”) keep everything on a second-grade reading level. Big explosions of big trucks by big guys with little brains usher in nearly every scene in a masturbatory exercise in futility.

The mojo that the original “xXx” had going for it was an allegiance to extreme sports that put its adrenaline-charged action sequences into a raw punk context of outlaw intensity. Vin Diesel delivered his signature soft-spoken eye-of-the-tornado charisma with a lust for danger that let the audience know that he really did “live for this shit.” Diesel’s Xander Cage instantly became a new kind of James Bond figure without having to resort to the old model. Here was a new prototype of athletic prowess and mental strength who could go from wetsuit to tux among a bunch of crazy Eastern European criminals and master every social atmosphere believably while still making time for a little seduction. There was an electric charge to “xXx” as an intelligent homage to the spy-thriller genre because it had the right guy to back it up.

Former “NWA” singer Ice Cube is an actor with a very narrow range. He’s fine in low-key comic roles, like the one he played in “Barbershop,” but he’s a lazy actor who depends on mugging expressions to sell his defeated temper that ostensibly simmers beneath the surface of his monotone line delivery. In a scene where Samuel L. Jackson’s returning character from the first movie visits Darius in his prison cell to inform him of his imminent breakout to serve his country, Ice Cube drains the energy out of Jackson’s performance with his stubborn line delivery. It’s one of the rare occasions when you can watch an amateur actor dragging down the efforts of a more experienced actor. As for Ice Cube’s hammy attempts at being a romancer, the actor is woefully unequipped for the job. 

Still, the blame for the failure of “State Of The Union” must be laid at the feet of the writers, and director Lee Tamahori. Tamahori (“Die Another Day”) has no excuse for not parlaying this film’s enormous budget into being at least a passable spectacle film given his work on an actual James Bond movie. “State Of The Union” begs the question of whether Tamahori hid behind the work of his second, third, and fourth unit directors to achieve the visual success of “Die Another Day.” For all of the CGI close-calls of flying metal shards in “State Of The Union,” none of it generates a visceral buzz of excitement.            

Willem Dafoe phones in his role as a Machiavellian Secretary of Defense, responsible for organizing a ridiculous raid on the capital by US military forces. Meanwhile, Peter Strauss forces his performance as a compassionate American President attempting to mend diplomatic fences with kindness. To his credit, Strauss exhibits as much of a weightless core as you’d expect in a movie where the pay-off scene involves a car driving at 160 miles per hour on its rims, chasing a bullet train down the track. “XXX: State Of The Union” is worse than a common Hollywood big budget flop because it at least had a running start.

Rated PG-13. 101 mins. (D-) (Zero Stars)

Posted by Cole Smithey on May 9, 2005 in Action/Adventure | Permalink
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