Reel To Reel:How It Rates: ***
XXX: State Of The Union
Starring: Ice Cube, Samuel L. Jackson, Willem Dafoe
Red Flags: Violence, Language
Preconceived Notions: XXX without Vin Diesel?
The Bottom Line: Maybe Diesel's not around, but his attitude is.
One of KOLD-TV's "Reel Life" Reviewers described the original XXX (2002) as James Bond with a punk soundtrack. Director Rob Cohen revved up a familiar formular with Diesel's gravelly-voiced attitude... and it worked. Everyone was set for a sequel, but both Diesel and Cohen ditched the project. Enter director Lee Tamahori (Die Another Day) and Ice Cube. But keep the attitude.
It works again. XXX: State Of The Union does not demand or require deep thought. In fact, thinking too hard just ruins the experience. Strap yourself in and enjoy the ride, because Ice Cube cool gangsta persona is what saves the project.
The new XXX wastes no time, coming out with guns blazing as attackers infiltrate an super-secret NSA underground command center in Virginia. Agent Augustus Gibbons (Jackson) and his Q-derivative-gadget-guy slip out and decide it's time to go "off the grid," because it's likely an inside job. And they need a new XXX -- redefined in this film as a generic code name for an NSA agent under deep cover.
Gibbons springs an old Navy SEAL comrade, Darius Stone, who's doing 20 years in a military prison for an op gone bad. Stone makes it clear he's not out of the can to take orders from anybody but himself, but in reluctantly helping Gibbons he stumbles into a plot by a former commander, Gen. George Deckert (DaFoe), to overthrow the government and install himself as president.
Interestingly enough, the current fictional president James Sanford (Peter Strauss) bears a working resemblence to John Kerry. Not surprisingly, he is calling for less defense spending, more foreign aid, and more cooperation with other nations to turn our "enemies into allies." I wondered whether the producers were betting on a Kerry win just so they could market this film as red-state revenge. But wait a minute, we already have a bad guy. As I said, don't think too hard.
Tamahori keeps the film moving with lean scenes and sharply tuned dialogue -- most of it from Cube, who makes us forget about Vin Diesel. A lot of things are forgettable besides Diesel -- blowing things up, shooting things down, speeding things away. Even some of the CGI-rendered scenes are borderline cartoonish. But Cube, he's just cool.