Sony // 2005 // 101 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // August 12th, 2008
Prepare for the next level.
"Don't do it for the red, white, and blue! Do it for yourself! Do it for the right to hack and jack outside the White House!" -- xXx
According to a bonus scene included on the unrated edition DVD of the first xXx movie, Xander Cage (the character played by Vin Diesel) has died. This movie does not waste any time reflecting on that ("Hey, 'member that Xander Cage dude? Yeah, he's totally dead"), it takes no more than five minutes to get another xXx, and this time around it's Ice Cube (Are We There Yet?). I have to admit, the concept this series offers is nifty...get a new lead action hero for each movie, but keep the supporting cast. Also back in action is Samuel L. Jackson (Jackie Brown); this is one of the many times in his career that he has demonstrated that he's willing to make just about any kind of movie. We also have Willem Dafoe (The Last Temptation of Christ) as the villain, playing a nasty Secretary of Defense. The President of the United States (Peter Krauss, Dirty Sexy Money) is a rather liberal fellow who likes to make speeches about cutting back military strength, being nice to foreign countries, and creating global happiness. So here's the deal...the Secretary of Defense wants to assassinate the President because he can't have some peace-lover getting in the way of his strong military forces. For reasons both political and personal, Ice Cube and Samuel L. Jackson both want to kill the Secretary of Defense. To do this, they must fight many battles, perform many stunts, and pimp many rides. Game on, suckers!
I remember when I saw this film in a theatre back in 2005. As I walked up to the box office, the girl behind the counter informed me that, "xXx 2 is the bomb, it's the most awesome movie!" After viewing the film, I wondered if she meant something else. Perhaps she was referring to the fact that xXx: State of the Union has a lot of bombs in its plot, put there to blow up the set design (and some of the characters). Or perhaps she was referring to the box office success of the film. Either way, this is most certainly not the most awesome movie (Judge David Johnson would be able to elaborate on this better than I, as he has a masters degree in movie awesomeness). It wants to be. I guess it could have been. Not in the "Ah, if I had turned left instead of right, this great thing would have happened," sort of way. More in a, "You know, anybody could be President of the United States someday," sort of way.
Everything in this movie is a rip-off of James Bond, just not as cool. There's the Q-like sidekick who invents all sorts of nifty-yet-deadly things, the many cool cars, the "Bond Girls" (a good one and a bad one, of course), and all the other usual Bond odds and ends. The big thriller sequences are also unbelievably ridiculous, perhaps the most absurd action I've seen in a while. For example: Ice Cube is riding in a car that has the ability to go 220 miles per hour, chasing a train zooming along at the same speed. He decides to ride on the tracks, which conveniently rip the tires off his car so the rims can glide along like a train. Never mind the the fact that he doesn't have any traction. Also, there are sequences of complete illogic. Again, example gratis: Ice Cube is inside a large mansion. There are a lot of people outside the mansion who want to blow him up. They are trying to figure out what part of the mansion he is in by using heat-sensitive electronic devices. Being resourceful, Ice Cube spends twenty minutes heating up a bunch of food in the microwave and tosses it in a bath tub, causing their radar pick up heat signals in that area instead of his actual location. Clever, right? But I just couldn't get past the fact that he could have just filled the tub with hot water, or turned the shower head on. In that scene, he sticks a frozen ham in the microwave. Ice Cube, do you know how long it takes to make a frozen ham hot? Answer: a lot longer than it took you in this movie. I want one of those microwaves.
There are a few little moments that are decent fun, and the directing is generally skillful. But the dialogue is so clichéd and action so ludicrous that to ask for a suspension of disbelief is impossible. Also, these usually fine actors seem to be on auto-pilot. Ice Cube plays xXx with a really bad attitude, but nothing else. He's rude and grumpy, stomping around and scowling at everyone. He only smiles when he's beating someone up or flirting with one of his two Bond girls. Samuel L. Jackson sleepwalks through his role, and Willem Dafoe is merely doing a less creepy version of his Green Goblin character from Spider-Man. Watch the big dialogue scene these two share about 30 minutes into to the movie. Neither actor seems remotely interested in the scene. Speaking of Samuel L. Jackson, what on earth is up with the packaging on this thing? Jackson's image is not included on the front or the back of the case. Instead, we get Ice Cube, one of the "Bond girls," and Scott Speedman (who is so forgettable in this film that I wouldn't have mentioned him if he weren't on the cover). Also unusual...the film's opening credits list the names of the key players, and finish with "and Samuel L. Jackson as Agent Gibbons." The credits on the back of this Blu-ray case list all the names, but don't mention Jackson. You have to watch the movie to find out he's in it...and he's a pretty big character! Very unusual, to say the least.
The hi-def transfer is solid, with deep blacks and a well-balanced color palette. The faintest of flecks appeared in a couple of spots, though. Sound is boisterous and aggressive, which is appropriate for this sort of noisy action flick. This is the sort of film that features throbbing underscore (by the skilled Marco Beltrami) during most scenes, and then pulls out bass-heavy hip-hop selections during the action scenes. If you like your action movies to provide hard-hitting jam sessions to accompany scenes of stuff blowing up real good, here you go. The extras are all ported over from the DVD release: a short documentary on the making of the film, three brief featurettes, two commentaries (one with director Lee Tamahori and writing Simon Hindberg, one with the visual effects team), and some deleted scenes. None of this is worth going out of your way to see, but I'd say the making-of doc is the most engaging feature, giving you all the info you need to know in a fairly short amount of time.
Two things happen at the end of the movie that made me smile. First, the President of the United States winds up quoting Tupac. Secondly, there's a conversation between Samuel L. Jackson and his cohorts trying to figure out who the next xXx should be, pretending as if they didn't realize this movie may just be bad enough to sink the whole franchise (three years later, the idea of xXx 3 has not left the rumor stage). Oh, well...here's to hoping the series can stay afloat, I'm still keeping my fingers crossed for the series to bring Christopher Walken on board to beat up all the bad guys while employing hot dance moves. Hey, I can dream, right?
Honestly, a few years ago I wouldn't have had any problem declaring that Lee Tamahori was a far superior director to Rob Cohen. His career seemed so promising when he gave us Once Were Warriors, Mulholland Falls and The Edge. But after four clunky action films in a row (this one joins Along Came a Spider, Next, and Die Another Day), I'm not so sure. This sequel certainly doesn't live up to the original, which didn't offer too much of interest in the first place.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Filmmakers Commentary
* Visual Effects Commentary
* "From Convict to Hero: The Making of xXx: State of the Union"
* "Top Secret: Military Warehouse"
* "xXx: According to Ice Cube"
* "Bullet Train Breakdown"
* Deleted Scenes