'xXx': A Capital Offense

Ice Cube, above, brings plenty of attitude to his role but doesn't get much plot to work with in
Ice Cube, above, brings plenty of attitude to his role but doesn't get much plot to work with in "xXx: State of the Union," while fellow agent Samuel L. Jackson, left, doesn't even bother. (Photos By Zade Rosenthal)
By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 29, 2005

"xXx: State of the Union" is so primitive, it must have been written in lizard blood on animal skin.

Hair seems to be the key: Men with expensive trims who use a lot of mousse want to take over the U.S. government. Men in cornrows have to stop them.

That's it. End of script meetings, story conferences, plot discussions, research. The marketing department predicts it will be a big hit and its never wrong.

A meaty Ice Cube plays Darius Stone, an ex-Navy SEAL unjustly framed and incarcerated for some vague misadventure in Kosovo who is sprung by his ex-boss, Augustus Gibbons (a slumming Samuel L. Jackson) of the NSA, when commando teams begin taking out top-secret government security installations because . . . well, one mark of amoeba-brained movies is that the word "because" must never be evoked, as it tends to confuse the audience. They don't need no stinking explanations.

Meanwhile, nefarious Secretary of Defense George Deckert (a really slumming Willem Dafoe) is revealed in the deep plot -- this happens in about Second 23 -- to be conspiring to launch a coup against wishy-washy lib president Peter Strauss. Since he has effectively co-opted the military, a new force must be conjured up quickly: the boyz in the hood. Cube turns to his former colleagues in the carjacking business (led by rapper Xzibit) for shock troops.

The movie is therefore configured to conjure up the following somewhat astonishing vision: a rampaging machine-gun shootout between thugs and Marines in the U.S. Capitol, and the thugs are the good guys.

Cube is suitably attitudinal for what little the role demands, while Jackson appears to be giving not a one-note performance but a quarter-note performance. Baltimore does a pretty lousy job of standing in for Washington, particularly as the director uses a famous landmark, the magnificent if decaying American Brewery building, a rococo delight, as a location marker for the District by emblazoning it with a bright sign that reads "Capitol Theater."

But how would he know? He's an out-of-towner. In fact, he's from so far out of town, he's from New Zealand. That would be Lee Tamahori, once were director of a great movie called "Once Were Warriors" and lately a spiritless hack behind such other moron fare as "The Edge" and the flat-line Bond "Die Another Day."

Tamahori, it must be said, still knows his way around an action sequence. The opener -- before the movie starts, so it hasn't been contaminated by its idiocy -- follows as Deckert's commandos take down an underground NSA installation in the Virginia countryside; it's brisk and professional and involving, if a little too science-fictiony. There's a great gag where the Cube boat-jumps his way from speedboat to bridge span, filmed on the Hanover Street bridge in Baltimore's harbor. And Cube's escape from prison -- a neat caper involving physical prowess, roof-climbing and leaping, and a stuntman with the guts of a burglar who hangs off a chopper for the longest of times -- will take your breath away.

Alas, by the movie's end, Tamahori seems to run out of steam and the Capitol shootout is banal, followed up by a train-escape gig that appears to be all deadheaded computer-generated imagery that fails to interest the eye.

And finally: What's the deal with the capitalization? "xXx"? What on Earth could thAt mean?

xXx: State of the Union (95 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for exaggerated violence and bad acting.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company