I enjoyed the premise of the first XXX film for its simplicity: not all maniacs bent on world domination are billionaires with unlimited resources who host glamorous soirees. Indeed, you’re more likely to find a group of unkempt cash strapped rebels trying to unload the WOMD of the week to earn a little flash money. And who better to infiltrate these earthy villains, than an attitude challenged extreme athlete pressed into service for the good of his fellow man (or to avoid some unpleasant legal quandaries)? At least you were more inclined to believe the crazy stunts.
It's the Investors! Quick get 'em before they can cut off funding!
When a branch office of the National Security Agency is brazenly assaulted in broad daylight it is apparent that something nefarious is afoot. For Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson), the head of an elite unit of super spies tasked with saving the world from tyranny, tracking down ne’er do wells is all in a day’s work. Unfortunately for Gibbons, his best man has just been taken out of the game and he needs to find a replacement PDQ. Enter Darius Stone (Ice Cube) - former Navy SEAL and member of Gibbons’ old unit - currently whiling his days away in the military big house. Gibbons offers Stone a proposal that doesn’t come with a ring - die of boredom in the pen or join him in another mission and risk almost certain death to save his country. Strike up the band and drop the bombs –freedom’s coming home!
After an insane day at work, I was definitely in the mood for some explosions and mayhem, but within minutes of the lights dimming I began to have misgivings about XXX: State of the Union. It wasn’t the villains running around unnoticed in broad daylight in the countryside clad in black supersuits, or the fact that special agents guarding a secret government installation apparently couldn’t hit the side of a barn with a bazooka. No, the first twinge came with Gibbon’s off the cuff explanation of Xander Cage’s (Vin Diesel) untimely demise – the former hero got a five-word eulogy (three if you eliminate the verb tense). I went into full deja-vu mode when Gibbons stated that Cage’s replacement needed to be (I’m paraphrasing here as I was too stunned to write down the dialogue) “We need a new agent with even more attitude. ” Please forgive me as I digress for a momentary explanatory tangent.
In a classic Simpsons episode, Itchy and Scratchy – the hyperviolent cartoon within a cartoon – is slumping in the ratings. The marketing department says that the show needs to be edgier, and tells the writers that they need to create a new character with extreme attitude to infuse the show with some cool and win back viewers. The Band-Aid solution is Poochie, a showboating mutt who’s heavy on flip and light on substance. Not surprisingly, Poochie is a huge bomb and gets put to sleep (although in a novel way). XXX State of the Union is The Return of Poochie. Now back to our regularly scheduled review.
Not being a huge fan of rap, I never knew who Ice Cube was until I saw him in John Singleton’s freshman effort “Boyz in the Hood” in which Cube demonstrated his acting mettle as Doughboy, an angry young thug, doing what he had to to survive. While Cube nails the perpetually pissed off look once again, Darius is passionless cardboard cutout without purpose whose lines feel forced. Samuel L. Jackson wheezes rather than roars as Gibbons, replaying the now tired indignation that he’s pumped into so many characters before. Other characters include the fey gadgets expert (a little homophobia always helps sell a film) and the two female interests who barely register as eye candy are instantly forgettable. Xzibit’s satirical take on Zeke, carjacker extraordinaire was the only performance that even remotely held my interest. The action fares little better.
With the exception of a impressive looking helicopter escape, the excitement factor is State of the Union is virtually non-existent: I laughed when the dummy used in the bridge-boat-jump almost fell out of the boat and was annoyed with the horrifically amateurish CGI train-escape-sequence. Does no one look at the dailies anymore? And the tank- jacking scene with Darius and his homeboys taking the Capitol were laughingly bad, but not in a good way. And lest I forget the gun battles are on par with those in Schwarzenegger’s Commando – one guy decimaties dozens of special ops members yet none can even graze him.
While the first XXX wasn’t exactly rife with scholarly dialogue or in-depth plot scenarios, it made no pretensions as to what it was – a spin on the traditional spy genre that brought its imperfect “hero” a little closer to earth. Holding to the maxim of the action flick, it boasted a hefty wow factor for the wanna-be adrenaline junkies in the audience and elicited its share of “oohs” and “ahhs”. State of the Union by comparison, lacks an engaging protagonist – Darius Stone is no Xander Cage -, skimps on the stunts and fails to engage the audience on every level. Much like a broken down UPS truck it is bland and fails to deliver.