Movie review: 'XXX: State of the Union'

1 ½ stars (out of 4)

"XXX: State of the Union" is one movie that, taken seriously, could put you in a real state gloom about the future. Not the future of the country, but of the movies.

How is it possible for a major franchise picture starring Ice Cube, Samuel L. Jackson and Willem Dafoe, a movie loaded with top technical talent and directed by Lee Tamahori (who made the last James Bond film, "Die Another Day") to this howlingly ridiculous?

Likely to be this week's box office champ anyway, "XXX" is a definite turkey-of-the-week candidate as well.

With all that talent in the room, it's hard to figure out why, even though we know that the prognostication for most sequels isn't good. We also know that the original 2002 hit "XXX," which starred Vin Diesel as an extreme sports star recruited by National Security Agency tough-guy Augustus Gibbons (Jackson) for a top-secret `XXX' sequel sets the record for nonsense European mission, was no great shakes in the movie logic department. But this new "XXX" has a story that may break all recent records for rampaging cliches and utter nonsense.

From the very first scene, where one government group attacks another in a secret maze of "Star Wars"-looking tunnels under a horse stable, to the slam-bang ending, in which the president of the United States and his defense secretary wrestle on a runaway bullet train, "XXX: State" flies off into some nut-zone of high-concept Hollywood absurdity. I've seen Rin Tin Tin silent films that made more sense than this movie--and had better dialogue (including the woofs).

The original "XXX," an awful but popular movie, posited the not-too-clever sub-"Dirty Dozen" notion that the National Security Agency might battle threats abroad by employing as its secret weapon the anti-social, multi-talented maverick thug played by Vin Diesel. Now, with Diesel gone and new threats emerging on the domestic horizon, Agent Gibbons decides that the new man for the job is surly Darius Stone (Cube), who's been languishing in jail for nine years after suffering through a botched military mission and decking a general.

Since everything that happens in this "XXX" sequel is top secret (and probably should have remained so, for the audience as well), Gibbons decides to break old teammate Stone out of jail with a mind-boggling but successful plan that involves Stone running across the roofs under fire in broad daylight and leaping onto a distant helicopter harness. Stone proves amazingly agile--and Gibbons proves astoundingly amicable when his beneficiary, after being sprung, announces he'll do everything his way and demands a burger, fries and a shake.

Soon we discover that the new terrorist plot involves egomaniacal ultra-militarist Secretary of Defense George Deckert (Dafoe), an old enemy of Gibbons and Stone, who plans to overthrow the government in the damnedest plot I've seen recently: an elaborate conspiracy involving a vast frame-up, multiple assassinations and a tank attack on the Capitol during the President's predictably cliche-ridden State of the Union address.

Are fantasies of George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld rumbling under this wild hokum? In fact, "XXX: State" is so ludicrous, yet so technically spectacular, that if its makers had more of a sense of humor, it might have been sensational. But the intended comedy here is as empty and programmed as everything else. Though Tamahori and company show some awareness that the plot twists are pretty silly, they don't make enough fun of them.

It's sad watching actors such as Jackson and Dafoe flailing against all these green screens and digital effects and delivering this vacuous dialogue. It's even sad to watch the attempts at acting this material by Peter Strauss (as President Sanford), Scott Speedman (as studly agent Kyle Steele), Nona Gaye (as car-czar babe Lola), original "XXX" vet Michael Roof (as "Q"-style gadget guy Toby Shavers), and Xzibit (as chop-shop boss Zeke). In a way, it's like watching a pro basketball game with a cantaloupe for a ball.

Ice Cube glowers his way through the movie, which is understandable considering the lines he has to say, courtesy of British newcomer/scripter Simon Kinberg. At one point, trying to recruit crook Zeke to the cause, Stone passionately declaims that Zeke should do it "not for the red, white and blue but for yourself," because, if Deckert takes over, "freedom won't be free." Wow!

Tamahori, whose best film is still his highly praised New Zealand family drama "Once Were Warriors," showed a flair for formula action in "Die Another Day." But he's licked from the start with Kinberg's script. Ominously, the press book also lists Kinberg as writer on the upcoming "Fantastic Four" and "X-Men 3" movies as well as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's upcoming "Mr. And Mrs. Smith." One can't imagine that the scripts for those other three movies could be as bad as this one. But the thought that they might is scary.

What isn't scary--or exciting, amusing or fun--is "XXX: State of the Union," a movie so preposterous, cliche-packed and over the top that it makes the original "XXX" seem as good as the original "State of the Union."

"XXX: State of the Union"

Directed by Lee Tamahori; written by Simon Kinberg; photographed by David Tattersall; edited by Mark Goldblatt, Stephen Rosenblum; production designed by Gavin Bocquet; music by Marco Beltrami; produced by Neal H. Moritz, Arne L. Schmidt. A Columbia Pictures release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:41. MPAA rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense action, violence and some language).

Darius Stone - Ice Cube

George Deckert - Willem Dafoe

Agent Augustus Gibbons - Samuel L. Jackson

Zeke - Xzibit

Lola - Nona M. Gaye

President Sanford - Peter Strauss

Agent Kyle Steele - Scott Speedman

Charlie - Sunny Mabrey

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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