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May 13, 2006 | Comments ()


An Explosion of Stupidity

xXx: State of the Union / Dustin Rowles

Film Reviews | May 13, 2006 | Comments ()


My biggest problem with xXx: State of the Union — the second in what promises to be a long series of teenaged-boy action-porn installments — is not that the plot is nonexistent, the performances are weak yet over-the-top, or that the action scenes are implausible — no sir. My major beef is with the barrage of explosions that director Lee Tamahori (Die Another Day) felt the need to hurl at us. Indeed, were it not for the raucous decibel level, I might have actually been able to sleep off a hangover instead of twitching awake every few seconds to see Ice Cube scowling at the tail end of yet another orange-tinged fireball getting sucked back into the screen before spitting out its debris of stupidity.

In State of the Union, the explosions aren’t necessary elements that move along the plot sequence even supplemental effects added to wow us; the explosions are the story. It’s almost as though the cast was digitally scribbled in during post-production, and it was the fireballs who were asked to stand in front of a blue screen while Tamahori instructed, “Just do your stuff, Fire! We’ll add the actors later.” Extremely violent and unnecessarily ear-splitting, nearly everything in State of the Union is detonated, so it’s best not to get too attached to anyone or anything because in all likelihood it’ll only seconds before he, she, or it will be added to the pile of wreckage that is State of the Union.

Driven into hiding after a covert military operation ambushes his underground headquarters, Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) returns from the original xXx to recruit Darius Stone (Ice Cube) — a prison inmate and former Special Operations comrade — to be the new xXx. It seems that, although the black ops unit of the NSA thought enough of Xander Cage to name the unit after him, they didn’t think enough of the guy to get worked up over his death, a detail we learn only through a throwaway line minutes into the film (“What happened to Xander Cage?” “Oh, he died in Bora Bora.” “Really? I wish I could work in Bora Bora.”)

The new xXx is decidedly less X-games and more a family-friendly thug-type, more interested in politically correct racial insults, pimped-out rides, and milkshakes than in fur coats or snowboarding. The story picks up nine years after Stone was court-martialed and imprisoned for refusing an order from the now-Rumsfeldian Secretary of Defense Decker (Willem Dafoe). Stone — with the assistance of Augustus and the requisite gadget geek — breaks out of prison so that the now-underground NSA unit can get to the bottom of things, a course which inevitably leads to a plot hatched by Decker to overthrow the government.

During the hour or so in between the prison break and what is probably the worst finale ever etched into celluloid, it’s kind of hard to tell what else is going on, what with all the explosions and the slew of characters introduced briefly and blown up a few seconds later. What is apparent, however, is that Sam Jackson doesn’t even bother to speak into the receiver while he’s phoning in his performance, and that Ice Cube has been stripped completely of the charm he’s shown in the Barbershop films and elsewhere. Scott Speedman — who was cast solely to ensure the white/black buddy cop dichotomy — looks as though he’s about to choke on most of his lines, delivering them with a weird, red-faced timidity, as though he’s too embarrassed by what he has to say to convey it seriously. And — egads! — what does it says about a film when Willem Dafoe can’t even work up the energy to act suitably creepy?

Yet what I find most disconcerting about State of the Union is that it was written by Simon Kinberg, the man who is responsible for scripting two of this summer’s most anticipated films, Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Fantastic Four. The shitty lines in State of the Union are fast and furious, colored in shades of patriotic overzealousness (“I never worked for you! I work for my country!”); excessively punctuated by the overdramatic (Goddamnit! Sixteen men! How many men have to die!”); and heavily reliant on misogyny for crowd-pleasing effect (“I told you that you shoulda killed dat bitch!”). Why three of this year’s biggest blockbusters (and next year’s X-Men 3) would turn to a guy whose only previous credits were as a script doctor to the horrendous Elektra and the nonsensical Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle is beyond me, but if the script for State of the Union is a sign of what’s to come, it’s going to be a long, long summer for movie critics.

Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba and managing partner of its parent company, which prefers to remain anonymous for reasons pertaining to public relations. He lives in Ithaca, New York.



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