A film review by Craig J. Koban



2005, PG-13, 94 mins.

Darius Stone: Ice Cube / Agent Gibbons: Samuel L. Jackson / George Deckert: Willem Dafoe / President: Peter Strauss / Zeke: Xzibit / Guard: Robert Alonzo / Man in trench coat: Rich Bryant / Prisoner: Steve Carson

Directed by Lee Tamahori / Written by Rich Wilkes and Simon Kinberg

There is such a thing as a good disposable popcorn entertainment.  You know, the ones that have an odd and perplexing sense of whimsy and fun about them and are entertaining enough to make for a satisfying viewing once and once only.

I assure you, they are out there - I’ve seen GYMKATA. 

Then there are completely disposable entertainments that do not make for an enjoyable time watching them.  While watching these types of films you constantly double check your watch, scratch your head with disbelief, and wonder how in the world you could have committed yourself to watch such meaningless dribble.  The obnoxious and lame titled sequel to xXx called xXx: STATE OF THE UNION is one of those films.  It commits a few cinematic sins, like the fact that it’s a witless, moronic, and an absurdly stupid auctioneer that not only embraces implausibility, but also channels it like some sort of X-Men mutant power that it was born with.  Furthermore, the film is a sequel to one that was not altogether that good to begin with.  Sigh. 

You may or may not remember (or maybe you are trying to block it out of your mind) the first xXx that starred gravel voiced Vin Diesel and was directed by Rob Cohen.  That film detailed an ultra secret underground government organization that recruited and trained badasses so that they can become covert operatives to rid the world of other badasses.   I guess the ideology with that film was that you send in a bad guy to take care of a lot of bad guys.  Well, I left that film enjoying some of it while shaking my head at a lot of it.  Funny how hindsight is, because I laughed at the sheer inanity of that film’s action set pieces. Nothing, obviously, has prepared me for the enormous ridiculousness of the loud and crude moments of mayhem in xXx 2, which are filmed with the subtlety and restraint of a hip hop music video and containS some of the most insipid use of CGI I have seen in many a moon. 

It’s no wonder why Diesel and Cohen skipped town and are AWOL from this mess.  The first film proved so successful economically that two other films were planned in a proposed series.  Diesel himself and Cohen also signed on for a second film and most likely a third.  Well, maybe some strange cosmic forces beyond our human comprehension told them to stop dead in their tracks and walk away from xXx 2…or maybe it was a good amount of foresight on their part not to want to go down on a sinking ship.  The first xXx, despite my misgivings, had the promise of a modestly lucrative franchise.  xXx 2 is most definitely the nail in its coffin and after watching and suffering through all of its explosions, bullets, and horrible dialogue I prayed to the movie gods that I will be spared from a third xXx.  Dear Lord, help us if they make another. 

Well, if the film’s quality was not disappointing enough - which should be said right now that it does not even hold a candle to the first – it also has to take a once promising and talented director, Lee Tamahori, and reduce him to yet another painful excursion into an action film disaster.  Tamahori also directed and sunk the Bond franchise with the mediocre DIE ANOTHER DAY and now continues his obvious predilection to overblown and overstuffed films with xXx 2.  Tamahori did make the great ONCE WERE WARRIORS, which seems like eons ago while discussing this film.  It’s a shame, not to mention a bit of a travesty, when a director is forced to drown in B-grade waters such as these. 

xXx 2 feels like a direct-to-video sequel in most respects, which seems amazing as it actually saw a theatrical release.  It's plainly obvious that with the absence of both Diesel and Cohen that the film did not get the large budget that most contemporary action films receive.  This film reeks of desperation at every turn, not to mention that the production values are lacklustre, the action scenes are insanely brainless,  and the visual effects lack even a small amount of polish to pass themselves off as a professional piece of work.  xXx 2 is one of those highly rare sequel oddities – it’s so jaw-dropping in its awfulness that you actually go back to the first film and, despite the fact that you may not have liked it, begin to put it on a much higher pedestal.  xXx now feels like a work of genius in comparison. 

xXx 2 is just a shameless display of excess.  How much excess, you may ask?  Just consider the sheer nonsensicality of the plot.  The US President, obviously one of the most powerful, highly guarded and protected men in the world, gives his State of the Union speech and manages to get rather easily kidnapped by American-born extremists.  He gives his speech all while they gather up all of their forces and dress in evil black body armour and race to the President down the street in tanks and other military equipment.  If that were not bad enough, the Secretary of Defense is behind the entire coup and also hatches a scheme to not only kill the Commander and Chief, but pretty much everyone under him as well in the government.  Yup.  Sure.  Uh-huh.

If that premise was not silly enough to begin with, the film then also offers up one of the most idiotic and implausible action scenes of the last few years.  Now I’ve seen many moments in action films that bend reality more than they should.  I am willing to believe in John McLane jumping off a LA high-rise with a fire hose to help him in his decent.  I am also willing to buy into a city bus that cannot drive below 50mph (for fear of explosion) and is able to jump a thirty foot gap in a LA freeway.  I am also willing to buy into a certain old xXx outrunning a mountain avalanche on his snowboard. 

But there is a moment in xXx 2 where I shook my head so hard that I thought it might severe itself from my neck.  In the climax of the film, the new leaner and meaner xXx pursues a bullet train that is capable of speeds in excess of 200 mph.  Well, he pursues it with his pimped up ride that also can travel at high speeds, but not only is he able to get the car up to velocities that would make most flux capacitors swell, he also manages to get his 200mph vehicle to shed its tires, ramp up and place itself perfectly on the train tracks that the bullet train is on.  Then, to make matters more insane, he still continues to persue on the tracks at 200 mph until he is able to get out of his car, while still moving, and jump on to the bullet train and save the President.  Yup.  Sure.  Uh-huh.  I think I need an Advil. 

Here’s another thing that burned my butt almost more than that stupid, stupid action chase scene – how could a President continue with his State of the Union Address while armed terrorists were crawling up to the Capital with tanks ready to kill him and all of his advisors?  You would think that a Secret Service man would walk up to him, tap him on the shoulder and politely let him know with the level of magnanimity that he deserves, “Excuse me sir, armed terrorists are a few blocks away and are trying to kill you.  I think it would be prudent to leave and…run like hell!!!”  Another thing – are there not more armed security and police officers patrolling the streets in Washington during one of his keynote speeches?  Clearly, the Pres is a wanted man by a few people in the world, so you would figure that while he is at the Capital speaking to the nation that a few boys in blue might notice a squadron of bad guys looking like they belong in a Splinter Cell video game racing up the streets.  Is that too much to ask? 

Also, I kind of find it amazing that the hero in this film, despite being one of the most wanted men in the country, is able to cavort around endlessly in the streets on America without being detected and captured.  If your face was on the ticker on CNN, then you’d think a few people would notice you…right?  And yet another thing – if you had a secret underground government covert organization that was one of the more vital in the country, then why would you have security that is about as useless as Napoleon Dynamite with a bow staff?  The guards in the facility are picked off with such speed and ease you just…oh…why bother. 

Oh, I would also like to add that the film’s major set pieces are done with such dizzying camera work, convoluted editing, and are punctuated by a maddening soundtrack that it resembled more of a cheap music video than an action film.  It’s like the producers met before the film was to be shot and said, "We need more, more…MORE!"  There is just so much of xXx 2 that is hard to swallow in the action department, and then comes the heavy preponderance of CGI technology that is just aggravating.  Now, I’ve been a staunch supporting of using computer wizardry in films when it’s done with the skill and budget to support them (see the LORD OF THE RINGS and STAR WARS films), but this film was obviously done with such a low budget that the shoddy CGI sticks out more than Vin Diesel’s bald head.  I don’t know what’s worse, the fact that the action scenes are derivative, that they are badly realized with visual effects, or that they often come with brainless dialogue like, “Hey cracker-hillbilly boy, you need to lighten up!” That line in particular came before the hero sets a bad guy on fire. 

As for the plot…gee…do I even have to go there?  Okay…here goes, but I’ll keep it short because I want to end this quickly here.  Convict Darius Stone (Ice Cube) is recruited to be the new xXx by Samuel L. Jackson’s Gibbons (he returns from the first one and seems to have a look of regret on his face all the way through it).  Conveniently, the first xXx (Diesel) was killed, or was not paid off enough at the salary negotiations for the sequel.  So, in short, Darius must kill as many bad dudes as possible while trying to uncover a secret governmental coup of the President.  He also has to have time to romance of couple of the ladies, hang out and recruit of couple of his own peeps, save the President from death, eat a lot of hotdogs and fries, and spout out dumb catchphrase lines like they’re back in fashion.  He is eventually aided by NSA Agent Steele, played by Scott Speedman as the least convincing NSA agent I recall seeing in the movies.  The main bad guy is Defense Secretary Deckert, played by Willem Dafoe in a performance that should have reeked more like he wanted to chew up the scenery and less like he was thirsty for a fat paycheck. 

To the ignorant, xXx: STATE OF THE UNION sounds like a bad adult film.  That is not too far off, as it could be aptly described as being about as entertaining as a porn film without the sex.  This film is lifeless, redundant, meaningless, dull, generic, laughable to its core, and ultimately succumbs to a depth of degenerate worth that most bad films only aspire to achieve.  This is a flashy, would-be big budget and kinetic action flick that is more trashy and incompetent that it is uplifting and exciting.  This film is never eXciting.  It’s just a big pile of eXcruciatingly tedious film making without a care in the world for wit, spunk, or savvy.  I wish now that I could have eXcused myself from watching this film.  Time for me to eXit  from this review...

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