XXX: STATE OF THE UNION directed by Lee Tamahori, written by Simon Kinberg, with Ice Cube, Samuel L. Jackson, Willem Dafoe and Peter Strauss. A Sony release. 101 minutes. Opens Friday (April 29). For venues and times, see Movies, page 100. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Fast cars, sexy women, loud music and big explosions. Yes, summer's come a little early. Check your logic at the door and pass the popcorn, please.
xXx: State Of The Union is the second in what the producers hope is a franchise of movies about secret, highly skilled agents hired by National Security Agency bigwig Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) to save America.
Vin Diesel smirked his way through the 2002 original, playing the first xXx agent, an extreme-sports pro turned reluctant James Bond.
Now Ice Cube snarls onto the screen as imprisoned military type Darius Stone, who's lured by Gibbons to infiltrate the White House and prevent a coup d'état.
The idea of keeping the star changing makes sense. You keep your costs down (imagine what Diesel would have demanded for a sequel) and get to capitalize on the new actor's talents and audience base. I'm sure that if State Of The Union does well enough, eventually one day a woman will get to wear the xXx tattoo. My money's on Michelle Rodriguez.
Here, Ice Cube looks like he really doesn't want to be in the film, and that adds to his appeal. He doesn't ask you to like him, so you do. His Darius is angry and impatient and just wants to get the job done so he can spend more time hanging out with his buddy Zeke (a terrific turn by rap star Xzibit), flirting with his ex (Nona M. Gaye) and caressing her shiny cars.
He lacks Diesel's ripped physique, but he's stocky, strong and agile (jumping through the air, he resembles a big grenade). At the same time, he's got the authority to hold his own against Jackson or even Willem Dafoe, who here gets to add a corrupt Secretary of Defense to his resumé of baddies.
Simon Kinberg's script gets us from explosion A to helicopter chase B without any big gaffes or bum monologues. That bodes well, because he also penned the next X-Men film and the upcoming Pitt/Jolie vehicle, Mr. And Mrs. Smith. He shows off his sense of humour, letting Ice Cube play a Southern Baptist minister and then a tuxedoed party guest to get to his man. A stray plot point about a high-tech glove is the only element that goes AWOL.
Actioners are all about directing, and Lee Tamahori (Die Another Day, Once Were Warriors) ensures he'll get the nod for more summer blockbusters. Besides restraining notorious overacters like Jackson and Dafoe, he cranks up the excitement so much that by the end you'll swear you're inside a video game.
Which might not be such a coincidence. I'm sure State Of The Union's coming soon to an Xbox or GameBoy near you.