Ice Cube …. XXX/Darius Stone
Samuel L. Jackson …. Agent Augustus Gibbons
Willem Dafoe …. Gen. George Octavius Deckert
Scott Speedman …. Agent Kyle Steele
Peter Strauss …. President James Sanford
Xzibit …. Zeke
Michael Roof …. Toby Lee Shavers
Sunny Mabrey …. Charlie
Nona Gaye …. Lola Jackson
The Bond franchise has always been the benchmark by which all other Spy Film franchises have been measured. Bond was the igniter that sparked the craze “Spymania” in the 1960’s and then was able to begin the craze anew in the 1990’s through the present. As much of a constant as 007 is, what is also constant is the lineup of competitors waiting for their chance to take down Her Majesty’s Greatest Agent and become king of the genre. From Our Man Flint to Mission: Impossible Spy films have come and gone, but Bond has always remained.
The latest attempt to derail 007 is the xXx series. In the summer of 2002 xXx hit theaters with a supposedly new kind of spy. Vin Diesel’s Xander Cage was not a typical secret agent, but a criminal and an adrenaline junkie, who is recruited by the U.S. Government to save the world using any means necessary. The film took the 007 formula and stuck an antihero in the lead. The film was a box-office smash, but took a drubbing critically. Most cited Diesel as the film’s biggest problem as the actor’s charisma left something to be desired. Bond then struck back the same year with Die Another Day, which basically doubled the worldwide gross of the Diesel upstart.
When the decision to do another xXx was made, several changes were made. First and foremost, the film would lose both its biggest asset its biggest weakness; star Vin Diesel. While Diesel’s name is the biggest draw for audiences of the series, the star’s “acting” would probably guarantee that the film would be another easy target for critics. The film’s new star would be a brand new xXx, Darius Stone played by Ice Cube. Normally this type of star juggling means instant death. Surprisingly enough, the film almost works!
The film begins on a quiet farm in Virginia, which is revealed to be an NSA headquarters as it suddenly explodes into action. The farm is infiltrated by a team of masked commandos with futuristic technology. Trying to defend the headquarters as best he can is Agent Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson), the leader of the outfit. In a pretty decent action scene, Gibbon’s tries to rallies his troops in a huge firefight. When the base is overwhelmed by the masked assailants, Gibbons escapes with his techno wiz, Agent Toby Lee Shavers (Michael Roof).
Believing the attack to be an inside job, Gibbons decides its time to recruit a new xXx. This one will have to be even wider then the last one to find out how deep this conspiracy goes. The man selected is military convict Darius Stone, a former Navy Seal. In sequence of sprinkled with decent hand to hand combat, Stone escape from a maximum security prison with the help of Gibbons.
After Gibbons has been killed, Stone finds himself out on his own and off the grid. Slowly but surely, the ex-con uncovers a plot to assassinate the President. The culprit is Stone’s former Commanding Officer, Gen. George Octavius Deckert, who is now the Secretary of Defense. In a bold stroke, Deckert plans to wipe out the rest of the cabinet in a coup de taut like the United States has never seen.
With the help of his old street connections and Agent Shavers, Stone builds up his own army of thugs and gangsters with which to stop the conspirators. The final sequence is a barrage of shootouts and chases, while the thugs and commandos do battle outside of the Capital Building.
With the production of xXx: State of the Union, producers must have had an attitude of “If you can’t beat’em, join’em” towards the Bond series. When Director Rob Cohen left the series, Producers wanted another veteran of action films. They decided to go with Die Another Day helmer Lee Tamahori. For the most part, this transition helps the picture out quite a bit. State of the Union has much more energy and has a much higher ratio for playfulness. Unfortunately, the script for the film plays out as if it was a bad novel from Tom Clancy.
While the addition of Ice Cube to the cast is not necessarily a bad one, the mix of urban shenanigans and political intrigue at the highest level makes the film very uneven. While there are situations with this tone are kind of fun, such as two situations where Cube’s xXx has to go undercover, its hard to take the film seriously. It is understandable that a picture like this shouldn’t be held to the same type of scrutiny as Million Dollar Baby, but there are moments here that are utterly ridiculous. Pushing the envelope is fine, action wise, but sequences where tanks are dodging missiles and cars are catching up to bullet trains make scenes laughable instead of exciting. On top of all that, the final sequence is pretty underwhelming with a ton of obvious CGI taking the place of actual stunt work. Fortunately the cast is better this time out.
Fortunately the cast is better this time out. Samuel L. Jackson is given more to do in this installment. I’d actually like to see a film with Gibbons as the next xXx, and make the film more of a thriller instead of an action film. Willem Dafoe is a great villain here as always. The guy is able to exude menace perhaps like no other actor working today. Finally, Ice Cube is quite serviceable as Darius Stone AKA: xXx. Cube is much more charismatic than his predecessor and is able to excel in a portion of the comedy scenes, though his one-liners often fall flat.
The one thing 2005 has been short of this year has been the “Big, Dumb, Loud Action Movie”. xXx: State of the Union seems to be perfectly happy to fill that void. If you can check your brain at the door and stand some of the dialogue, these two hours will go kind of smooth. If not, the ride will be kind of bumpy.
The transfer for this film is pretty great. Colors are bright and light and darks are where they supposed to be. The explosions and The film is presented in a 2.40:1 letterbox.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 stereo track is crystal clear. If listening to hip-hop as tanks and machine gun’s go off is your cup of tea, this is the DVD for you.
SPECIAL FEATURES:Audio commentary with the filmmakers,
Visual effects commentary, Deleted scenes, From Convict to Hero: The Making of xXx: State Of The Union, xXx: According to Ice Cube feature, Top Secret Military Warehouse feature, The bullet train sequence.
Audio commentary with the filmmakers, Visual effects commentary
The two commentaries here are informative, but nothing special. The better of the two is the filmmaker’s commentary as Director Lee Tamahori having some interesting anecdotes about the production. The visual effects commentary is pretty standard stuff.
There isn’t anything special here as most of these scenes needed to be cut from the film anyway.
From Convict to Hero: The Making of xXx: State Of The Union: The best Feature on the disc. The documentary begins with the Writer Simon Kinberg and Director Lee Tamahori discussing the tribulations of the picture’s construction. Apparently 70% of the script had to be re- written when star Vin Diesel left the production and Cube’s Darius Stone, which was a supporting character, was made the focus of the film. If nothing else Kinberg and Tamahori seem to be taking the filming of the movie too seriously, but you can tell each is really trying to make the best movie possible.
xXx: According to Ice Cube feature: This featurette discusses the change in attitude of the picture from a Vin Diesel vehicle to a more hard nosed, urban film with Ice Cube leading the cast.
Top Secret Military Warehouse feature: The featurette discusses the change in aesthetics concerning the weaponry and gadgets in the picture. This film put more emphasis on having less futuristic technology and more real world weapons.
The bullet train sequence: This featurette discusses the intricacies of the final action sequence of the film.