Latest 'XXX' races at full throttle - just don't ask where it's going.


April 29, 2005|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Lots of things blow up real good in XXX: State of the Union. As to whether anything else happens, I'll let you know after my eardrums stop bleeding.

Ahhh, my concussion seems to be clearing. I remember a buffed-up Ice Cube scowling a lot, women in cleavage-enhancing outfits providing eye candy, the U.S. Capitol with a gaping hole in its side, Samuel L. Jackson with a tire-grid prosthetic on the side of his face and a boat leaping onto a bridge.

Like few movies in recent memory (at least few since the original XXX), State of the Union - parts of which were filmed in and around Baltimore - abandons almost completely any pretense of cogent storytelling, character development, pacing or restraint. This is a movie about guns blazing, men punching, speedometers straining and explosions exploding. On all those levels, it succeeds just fine - which makes for a great amusement-park ride, but perhaps not much of a movie.

Vin Diesel, star of the first XXX, has moved on (to, most recently, baby-sitting toddlers in The Pacifier); his character, we're told early in this film, was killed in Bora Bora. So, instead of Xander Cage, master of all extreme sports, we get in this film Darius Stone (Ice Cube), bad-dude supreme. And there's one key difference between the two films right away - while Cage possessed skills that would seem to come in handy when you're a secret agent, all Stone has is brawn, attitude and a thing for really fast cars.

Such talents serve Stone well, however, when his former Special Ops commander, Augustus Gibbons (Jackson), recruits him for a special unit of clandestine operatives dedicated to keeping the United States safe from itself - that is, it hesitates not one moment when going up against the FBI, NSA, CIA, NBA, any group it sees as evil and/or subversive.

In State of the Union, the bad guy is Secretary of Defense George Deckert (Willem Dafoe), a decorated Army general who has decided that the pacifist pansies running the government (and that includes the president) must be not only stopped, but eliminated. He's recruited lots of guys with lots of guns to help him. About the only guy not with him, it seems, is Gibbons, who once served under Deckert and retains a serious chip on his shoulder.

So Gibbons helps Stone break out of jail (played here by Jessup's House of Correction) and sics him on Decker. Let the explosions begin!

Advice to anyone who goes to see this movie: Don't look to make sense of it. Don't ask why guards, trying to stop an invasion of an underground NSA installation, don't simply shoot the intruders, but insist on hand-to-hand combat. And certainly don't ask where all these supposed back alleys are that lead to the U.S. Capitol. Just don't ask.

Cube, who has been dipping his toe into almost every possible cinematic genre (he most recently tried slapstick comedy with Are We There Yet?), comes across well enough as Stone, resorting to the sort of gangsta scowl he perfected during his rap days. The role doesn't call for him to do much, but Cube has enough charisma to pull off pretty much whatever he tries. Still, it's hard to shake off the feeling that even he realizes he's better than a film like this, which frequently has him playing second-fiddle to a bunch of souped-up monster trucks or tanks able to turn on a dime.

Director Lee Tamahori (Die Another Day) seems to have his foot stuck permanently on the accelerator. He certainly exhibits not one trace of a lighter touch; the few attempts at humor scattered throughout State of the Union, such as Stone's attempts to act like a Southern preacher, fall flat. But when they do, don't despair; that pedal will be firmly on the metal the next moment, and the blowing-up will start all over.

XXX: State of the Union

Starring Ice Cube, Samuel L. Jackson, Willem Dafoe

Directed by Lee Tamahori

Released by Columbia Pictures

Rated PG-13 (intense action, violence, language)

Time 100 minutes

Sun Score ** (2 stars)

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