XXX 2 - The Next Level
So what if the action-packed follow-up XXX: State of the Union is one of the more implausible and ridiculous movies ever conceived. It still made me want to jump into my little Mazada Protégé 5 and race around like the dickens.
U.S. President Sanford (Peter Strauss) is in real trouble. Seems his fairly liberal military initiatives have earned him some enemies, including a radical splinter group of dissenters deep within his administration who plan to assassinate him and his followers. Yeah, that's not good. After surviving a massive hit on the National Security Agency's top-secret headquarters, the unconventional Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) once again finds himself in need of an outsider since his first XXX agent, Xander Cage, was conveniently killed off following the first film (Vin Diesel didn't want to participate in State of the Union, I guess). Gibbons enlists decorated Special Ops soldier Darius Stone (Ice Cube), with whom he once worked. But Stone's now sitting in a military prison. No matter. Soon, assisted by his hometown posse, the revved-up, streetwise, badass new XXX agent is free, heading to the nation's capitol to uncover the insurgents from within and stop the first coup d'etat in American history. It's off the chain, man.
Ah, finally, the Ice Cube we all know and love. Many of his diehard fans have been puzzled by his, er, choices of late, such as Barbershop 2 and Are We There Yet?, fearful he may have forgotten his hardcore gangsta rap and Boyz N the Hood days. Well, don't fret. Ice Cube knows what he's doing. Sure, he can play footsie with the kids and make a zillion dollars. But he can easily revert back to that dangerous guy, kicking butt with the best of them--and still make a zillion dollars. As Darius, Ice Cube is ALL attitude, with the curled-up lip, glowering stares and powerhouse punches. He definitely adds street credibility to the action-hero persona. As his counterpart, Jackson wisely leaves most of the stunt work for his costar but matches Ice Cube's tough-guy stance bullet for bullet, even though the both of them tend to look uncomfortable at times having to say their contrived lines. ''I was born guilty''? Please. As far as the rest of the cast, most overplay their parts with aplomb, especially Willem Dafoe as the trigger-happy Secretary of Defense Deckert, a former general who, of course, has ties to Stone and Gibbons. Why would the Oscar-nominated actor do something as frivolous as this? Probably because he just wants to shoot guns and blow things up, too, God bless him.
OK, so State of the Union is farfetched. As you watch, you'll undoubtedly roll your eyes or laugh inappropriately on more than one occasion and may actually yell out, ''Oh, now, come on!'' But do a concise story, compelling characters and gripping dialogue really matter when you're blowing up stuff? Absolutely not. Sure, it helps but it certainly isn't necessary, especially if you're into fast cars, monster trucks, major artillery and pyrotechnics. I confess I am one of these people. Director Lee Tamahori, who most recently helmed the high-octane Die Another Day, aptly takes over the reins from XXX director Rob Cohen (who instead executive produced the sequel). Instead of the whole extreme sports arena, which made the original so much fun, Tamahori uses more conventional action setups with that street sensibility. Each one is more outrageous than the next. A tank battle on an aircraft carrier, shooting up the inside of the U.S. Capitol, a suped-up Ford Cobra speeding after a bullet train-- it grabs you from the beginning and doesn't let go.
With Ice Cube at the wheel, XXX: State of the Union delivers all the adrenaline a junkie could ever want. Just don't pay too much attention to anything else going on in the movie.