XXX: State of the Union

Movie Information

Genre: Spy Action Thriller
Director: Lee Tamahori
Starring: Ice Cube, Willem Dafoe, Samuel L. Jackson, Scott Speedman, Peter Strauss
Rated: PG-13

“You’re the new ‘Triple X,'” Agent Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) informs Darius Stone (Ice Cube) after arranging the hotheaded Stone’s jailbreak. “Sounds like a porno star,” sneers Stone.

If that level of witty repartee — rarely heard since the demise of Oscar Wilde — convulses you with laughter, then xXx: State of the Union is the movie for you. (True, it sent three guys in the row behind me into hysterics, but they also giggled every time anyone swore and fell into positively orgasmic moaning whenever a souped-up muscle car appeared on the screen.)

In all honesty, no one expects brilliant writing in a movie like this, but there are limits — or there should be. Of course, screenwriter Simon Kinberg accepted credit for working as the script doctor on Elektra and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, so the man obviously has no shame. But then, the script isn’t the whole problem with this movie.

There’s also the central idea of Ice Cube as an action star. When Mr. Cube played the badass biker in the deliriously dreadful Torque, I noted that his persona and build gives one the impression of “being menaced by a teddy bear that thinks it’s a pit bull.” In between that and xXx, we’ve seen him lose a battle of wits with two bratty kids, jive to the “Hamster Dance” and get the crap punched out of him by an animatronic deer (all in the same movie, no less). That’s hardly the kind of stuff that’s likely to increase his street cred.

Yes, I know, it’s called acting — though not in Mr. Cube’s case. The man’s a really likable personality, and his screen performances work when he leaves it at that. But what he tries to act, it just seems silly. I suppose the thought was that it didn’t take an Olivier to fill Vin Diesel’s shoes. (Hell, it wouldn’t take a Sean William Scott to fill Diesel’s shoes.) But really, the guy ought to at least look like an action star. The spectacle of Ice Cube leaping from a building and catching a ride on a passing helicopter is outside the realm of even marginal believability.

Diesel wanted too much money to come back for the sequel, so they killed off his character in Bora Bora, Baden Baden or some equally vague offscreen locale. Ice Cube has a fairly bankable name and … you get the picture.

The plot, which is nothing but an excuse for a lot of ear-splittingly loud (we’re talking first-row Who concert loud here) action scenes, is almost absurd enough to be amusing. Gibbons’ super-secret hideout is attacked, so he takes it on the lam and sets out to create the new “xXx” — someone who’s even more off-the-wall than the last one. That’s why he springs Stone out of the big house. But what’s really going on?

Well, you see, the secretary of defense (Willem Dafoe) has his personal army within the Army all set to assassinate the president (Peter Strauss) and however many people down the line it takes to make the secretary of defense president. (I’d call my ninth-grade civics teacher and ask about this, but she died some years ago.) In other words, it’s kind of like Kind Hearts and Coronets, only with tanks and choppers.

Now, since we don’t know who to trust, it falls to Stone to assemble his own personal army, which is derived entirely from (oh, you’ll like this) the car thieves who run an upscale chop-shop in his old hood. Are they doing this for the good of the country? Mercy me, no. They’re doing it preserve their inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of jacking cars.

As ridiculous as all this is, it only gets worse. Tanks, armored vehicles and storm-troopers march on the U.S. Capitol — where the Prez is giving his State of the Union address — without drawing any undue attention. The fact that they’re barely noticed isn’t entirely surprising, since an earlier scene featured about twice as many explosions and three times the gunfire of D-Day all ccurring onboard an anchored aircraft carrier, and that alarmed no one.

Assuming the viewer hasn’t left the theater or fallen into a fitful sleep after all this, there’s still the climax, which tops everything else in both absurdity (what a happy coincidence that the wheel-span on a $500,000 Cobra should just match the railroad track on which the runaway bullet-train is speeding down!) and truly awful special effects.

Now, Lee Tamahori is a fairly talented director, but you wouldn’t know it from this movie, which makes his James Bond flick, Die Another Day, look like a model of restraint and logic. Nothing here makes any sense or is believable for a second.

And why has “the new Triple X” been rendered virtually sexless? One of the “big” gags in the original had Diesel comment, as a reference to a steamy encounter between bouts of mayhem, “The things I’m gonna do for my country.” The line is referenced here when a similar opportunity arises, but this time Triple X utters a defeated, “The things I can’t do for my country.”

The best Stone gets is a kiss from old girlfriend Lola (Nona M. Gaye, The Matrix Revolutions), at the end of the movie. Maybe it’s just the fact that Ice Cube-as-sex-symbol was just too much, even for the folks who decided he could be an action star. If so, it’s the only time in the production of this movie that reason entered into the decision-making process. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence and some language.

— reviewed by Ken Hanke

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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