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Dustin Putman

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XXX: State of the Union (2005)
Zero Stars

Directed by Lee Tamahori
Cast: Ice Cube, Samuel L. Jackson, Willem Dafoe, Scott Speedman, Nona Gaye, Sunny Mabrey, Peter Strauss, Xzibit, Michael Roof, Matt Gerald, James Lewis
2005 – 101 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for action violence and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, April 26, 2005.

In my review of 2002's "XXX," I described the fast, furious, silly, and tautly filmed Vin Diesel actioner as a "check your brain at the door" kind of summer thrill ride, and meant it as a compliment. In the case of "XXX: State of the Union," one could throw their brain to the floor, stomp on it, have it run over by a high school marching band followed by a stampede of wild giant boars, and it still wouldn't make the experience any less insufferable. Like watching a 100-minute video game demo but with even less excitement and logic, this is truly mind-numbing filmmaking. Crammed wall-to-wall with action set-pieces that, even while suspending disbelief, come off as laughably ludicrous, a hideously unctuous rap soundtrack, and a plot as incomprehensible as it is virtually nonexistent, "XXX: State of the Union" may be the ideal antidote for anyone who wishes to drop their IQ by fifty points in a matter of hours.

Replacing the too-cool, muscle-bound Vin Diesel (the original XXX) with smart-alecky Ice Cube (2005's "Are We There Yet"), who even with pumped up arms looks too chubby and stout to be believed carrying off the stuntwork, is akin to ordering a colossal burger at Ruby Tuesday's and being served a soup and salad, instead—minus the nutritional value. Furthermore, whereas Diesel's Xander Cage was a likable badass who you wanted to see come out on top, Ice Cube's Darius Stone is simply a stubborn, scowling jackass who you pray dies in an explosion.

Because Diesel did not want to return to the series, screenwriter Simon Kinberg has opted to cheapen the predecessor and go against everything his character symbolized by having him killed off. There is no mention of how he died, only that he is, indeed, sleeping with the worms. In searching for a replacement for their latest top-secret, ultra-dangerous mission, Agent Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) looks no further than imprisoned felon Darius Stone (Ice Cube), whom he promptly breaks out of jail and offers him a job that, if successful, could pardon his 20-year sentence. The setting this time is the crooked political waters of Washington, D.C., where Secretary of Defense George Deckert (Willem Dafoe) is plotting to blow up the Capitol building and assassinate President Sanford (Peter Strauss). Or something like that. The details of such and the motive behind Deckert's plot make no different to director Lee Tamahori (2002's "Die Another Day"), who you would never know has had experience in pitting maniacal villains against secret agents with the James Bond series.

Seemingly directed with a blindfold on and without having even taken a look at the disastrous screenplay, to say that "XXX: State of the Union" is a video game rather than a movie is to give it too much credit. In order to beat a video game, a certain amount of thought and planning is usually required. The same cannot be said of "XXX: State of the Union," a direct-to-video-level sequel that makes the merely good original look like an example of airtight storytelling and thought-provoking intelligence. This continuation, more of a ghettoized remake with lesser production values, has misplaced asinine, technically confused action set-pieces for actual tension and energy. If an action movie is doing its job successfully, then even the most ridiculous of occurrences can be overlooked in the name of fun (2004's "Torque" was a recent example of this). If an action movie is exempt of style and fails to even build a modicum of edge-of-your-seat pyrotechnics, then the absurdity only comes as another nagging hindrance.

"XXX: State of the Union" clangs with rickety amateurishness and the sort of audience-insulting plot holes that are just plain sloppy. The premise itself makes so little sense and is so haphazardly developed that it takes over an hour to even understand what XXX's mission is. And in today's state of paranoia and security, how does one make a motion picture set in D.C. that does not even take this into account, treating the nation's capital as a place where anyone can just waltz into the Capitol building with missiles and kidnap the President of the United States with nary a Secret Service agent in sight to protect him? The romantic scenes between Darius and Lola (Nona Gaye), an awkward-looking, big-breasted gal from his past, are no better, riddled with the sort of overblown, mawkish cliches that make them complete spoofs of actual tender love story moments.

Ice Cube has the capabilities of being a charismatic performer, but his commercial-minded casting as an action hero is something he should never attempt again. It is so obvious when a stunt double is being used for Cube that it quickly becomes a distraction, and, as mentioned, he lacks the strong physicality required in such a role. As for his performance, he is terrible, choosing to grimace rather than emote and develop a character. Then again, maybe his constant frown was an understandable result of reading the script and not liking what he saw. The other performances are painful, too, none more so than Scott Speedman (2003's "Underworld"), as Agent Kyle Steel, who sleepwalks through his part, looking more like a frat guy than a federal agent. As in the first film, Samuel L. Jackson (2005's "Coach Carter"), sporting a dorky-looking afro, has nothing to do as XXX's superior.

"XXX: State of the Union" is an irredeemable, lazy, misogynistic garbage heap vaguely disguised as a diverting big-budget action film. No care has been put into any aspect of it—even the special effects are shoddy and cartoonish—with the hope that a fury of explosions and a few appearances by rap stars like the acting-challenged Xzibit will garner it a few quick bucks at the box-office before word gets out just how bunglingly incompetent the whole thing is. "XXX" was a quick and painless trashy entertainment with high-throttle, eager-to-please charm. "XXX: State of the Union" is plain, old, rancid trash, as careless as it is despicably wasteful. If Xander Cage had to die, the "XXX" series should have keeled over with him.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman