xXx: State of the Union (2005)

xxx-sotu

“Get ready for the next level”

Directed by Lee Tamahori
Starring Ice Cube, Willem Dafoe, Scott Speedman, Peter Strauss, Samuel L. Jackson

A commando team bust into the secret HQ of the xXx programme, killing everyone except station chief Agent Gibbons (Jackson) and technical comic relief Shavers (Michael Roof). Informed of the incident, the president (Peter Strauss) is determined that his State of the Union address must tackle the causes of such attacks by building up international relations, much to the chagrin of hawkish Secretary and obvious villain Deckert (Dafoe).

Working outside the system because reasons, Gibbons and Shavers recruit a new xXx; Lieutenant Darius Stone (Cube) a former member of Gibbons’ SEAL team now incarcerated for punching then General Deckert in the face. They break him out of prison by making a helicopter undetectable with their wizard magic, before Gibbons is apparently killed in Deckert’s shock reveal as the obvious villain.

Stone and Shaver hook up with Stone’s ex, Lola (Nona Gay) to find a place to stay and a steady source of muscle cars. Stone breaks back into the xXx HQ to retrieve a laughably slim amount of information that Gibbons could easily have conveyed verbally before going off to get murdered, which puts them onto Charlie Mayweather (Sunny Mabrey), a hot blonde senatorial aide who suckers Stone into a frame up for murdering a General who opposes Deckert’s mystery plan. He finds Deckert gathering an army on board an aircraft carrier, and holding Gibbons and the rest of their old unit captive, works out that Deckert wants to kill the President, and teams up with the leader of his pursuers, Agent Steele (Speedman) to stop him.

What’s wrong with it?

I challenged my partner's assumption that Deckert was the baddy, but only to try to analyse why it was so obvious.
I challenged my partner’s assumption that Deckert was the baddy, but only to try to analyse why it was so obvious. Is it just because Willem Dafoe’s surname looks like it should be Dutch for ‘the enemy’?

The film seems utterly determined to undermine its predecessor’s premise, with Gibbons deciding that they need to move on from recruiting extreme athletes and instead find someone with actual special forces experience to be the new xXx, despite not recruiting people with identifiable military training being the entire point.

Also, xXx was Xander Cage’s thing. We hear early on that he was murdered in Bora Bora, and I have to wonder if Gibbons didn’t have him whacked so they could nick his trademark.

The initial assault is launched using explosives which blast their way down though a hundred yards of earth to the xXx HQ, and seriously guys; matter doesn’t work like that. Unless you’re dealing in antimatter annihilation or Virginia soil has the consistency of meringue, the earth has to go somewhere.

Stone finds Gibbons held captive along with the rest of the unit, then rescues them, only for all the unnamed characters to be gunned down out of hand with barely a line between them. It’s weirdly dismissive of supporting cast, especially compared to the fucking badass showing by the Prague police force in the original movie.

Chop-shop boss Zeke assures Steele that they can take care of a tank because ‘if it’s got wheels, we can jack it.’ But a tank doesn’t really have wheels in any accepted sense, and where in the hell did they get jacks that can lift a vehicle twenty times the weight of a Humvee?

Stone drives a supercar along the Presidential bullet train’s tracks. Aside from the fact that surely having exposed tracks for a top secret Presidential escape train defeats the purpose of the train, car wheels don’t work like that. Even if the wheel itself were the correct gauge to sit on the rail when the tire burst, a lightweight supercar body wouldn’t have anywhere near the downforce to develop sufficient metal-on-metal grip to give decent acceleration.

Super-smooth Stone woos his ex with some of the world’s worst lines: “Remember all the damage we did in the back seat?” he reminisces as they drool over his old car. Then when she asks how fast the supercar went in the end he answers: “220. Second best ride of my life.” You old romantic, Darius.

What’s right with it?

There appears to be some kind of dispute over who gets to be the third face on this poster.
As well as the title, there appears to be some kind of dispute over who gets to be the third face on this poster.

Samuel L Jackson is his usual badass self, and while he’s never going to be one of the all-time greats, Ice Cube turns in a decent showing as Stone. Especially notable is his brief turn as a soft-spoken Baptist minister, a transformation so profound as to suggest that he’s actually been holding back as directors ask him to ‘just be yourself’.

The action scenes are decent, and the film has a sense of fun in amidst all the ludicrous, po-faced machismo.

The film’s script is decidedly uneven, but has a lot of good one-liners, which Cube delivers with aplomb, and once they get past treating him as the clueless nerd, Shavers has a lot of good material.

How bad is it really?

"We are men of action. Ties do not become us."
“We are men of action. Ties do not become us.”

Fun is what saves this big chunk of overblown manly action from complete disaster. It’s just grounded enough to maintain the suspension of disbelief that the director’s ill-fated Bond offering Die Another Day lost, but wild and wacky enough to let the sillier stuff slide. Mostly. Damningly, my main response to this film is to wish I could get hold of a copy of xXx from LoveFilm.

Best bit (if such there is)?

Early in the film, Stone quotes Tupac to Gibbons, who later repeats the quote, leading to the President offering the same line – “Wars come and go, but my soldiers stay eternal.” – in a televised speech of gratitude to ‘the unknown soldier’.

What’s up with…?

  • The film’s clear embarrassment to be associated with xXx? ‘What? No! xXx is the name of the programme. Snowboarders? Ridiculous, clearly. We need a trained military professional. Just… an angry one.’
  • The magic aiming skills? Stone shoots a hole in the capitol building with a tank’s main gun, somehow hitting the room where the President and Gibbons are held captive, but only killing some of Deckert’s men. Then one of the baddies opens up on our heroes, killing four nameless supporting members of the SEAL team, but missing Stone, Gibbons and Steele.

Ratings

Production values – Decent, professional production, although in a few scenes – especially the train chase – the CGI is showing its age a little. 8
Dialogue and performances – Mostly decent, going on good. Willem Dafoe is a touch of class even when Jackson isn’t around, and Cube is at his best. 6
Plot and execution – The plot is pretty silly, and rides heavily on needing to do things like retrieve a sliver of information that Gibbons could easily have memorised, or hijack a tank. Although that was pretty cool. 12
Randomness – They hijack a tank and Ice Cube pretends to be a prissy minister. 10
Waste of potential – It’s tough to disappoint in a sequel to xXx, and yet, despite some admirable features, State of the Union manages it. 12

Overall 48%

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