Even in meaningless tripe Ice Cube—the actor—seems to do no wrong. From his breakthrough performance in Boys N The Hood, to his Gulf War soldier in the brilliant Three Kings to his neighborhood pothead in Friday, the guy delivers.
So it was with some anticipation of at least entertainment that I checked out Cube's latest picture, the re-make to the action overloaded, Vin Diesel -filled xXx , xXx: State of the Union. Surely, State of the Union had to be better than Cube's last serious misstep Are We There Yet? an excruciatingly annoying film in which Cube managed to coast through relatively unscathed (well, except when he fist-fights an animatronic deer). And if anyone's going to fill in for Diesel's laconic super-spy Xander Cage, Cube appears to be the right choice, though one moving in a different direction (and not as super-human buff).
Angrier, less glamorous (can't see Cube donning Diesel's hunky, fluffy Euro-trash duds while canoodling Asia Argento) and less extreme sports, this xXx isn't some crazy thrill seeker but a pissed off former soldier--which is rather grim. As Agent Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) ponders the possibility of a new xXx—he states that the replacement (Diesel's Xander was killed in Bora Bora--an F-you to Diesel I think) needs even more attitude. Boom! Camera reveals instant tude as Cube, a prisoner for nine years, is shown in close-up walking with that perpetually peeved grimace. Titles shoot across the screen: xXx.
Yeah! Absurdist action must be coming. Cool, tricked out cars (some of the cars here are kick ass--the GTO and Steve McQueen Mustang in particular), heat seeking missile style weapons, inconceivably evil villains laughing like the Joker, undulating, dum-dum babes—right? Well, yes…but for a movie overflowing with all the required ludicrousness, it sure isn't any fun. And the Diesel factor (sorry people, I love Vin Diesel in xXx) is sorely missing.
Directed by Lee Tamahori (who went from the powerful Once Were Warriors to the anemic Die Another Day to this), the plot is so simple yet so nonsensical, you might have to think for a second just in case you've mistakenly missed something. You haven't. National Security Agency head Gibbons finds his new super agent in Darius Stone (Cube) a guy so mad he'll have no problem offing bad guys, not in the name of America but because he's so irritated. He doesn't even like his name, xXx : "Sounds like a porn star" he quips in a moment that manages to be somewhat humorous.
But that's the intentional humor—here's the unintentional humor (or not--I can't tell anymore). Ultra evil Secretary of Defense George Deckert (Willem Dafoe)—a foe to Gibbons and Stone—is involved in a conspiracy to rid the President. When will it happen? During his state of the union address (oh—yeah…the title). A tank attack on the capital seems perfectly reasonable don't you think? After seeing Darius bust out of prison in broad daylight and jump onto a moving helicopter, flip his speedboat over a bridge piled with cars and fly through flames (can't exactly remember when or how many times that happens but the image keeps popping up—must be the "Shoot To Thrill" AC/DC TV trailer, a song that is soooo much cooler than this movie), the machinations involved in the plot to kill our (ahem) liberal president (Peter Strauss) are not so far fetched by this point.
But the far fetched aspects of State of the Union aren't what make it a bad movie. For God's sake, that's what makes it an almost good movie— surrealistic in its disregard for the willing suspension of disbelief. xXx—Diesel-style understood that and the movie was stupid, glorious fun. So over the top it felt like some David La Chappelle photo spread/Smirnoff Ice commerical come to psychotic life. xXx Cube-controlled is too dour and tired hip-hop, yo-yo for that. Or rather (and especially to be fair to Cube who has nothing to do with the FX, writing and direction here) Tamahori doesn't know how to make a fun, idiotically fun, action film. xXx: State of the Union suffers an action fate worse than un-explainable exploding cars and wooden dialogue—it's (gasp!) boring.
Read more Kim Morgan at her blog Sunset Gun