Ice Cube's Overblown 'XXX' Factor

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 29, 2005

QUESTION: How can the average viewer be sure he's intelligent enough to appreciate all the thematic nuance, subtle acting and clever plot twists of "XXX: State of the Union," the action-packed sequel to the 2002 Vin Diesel vehicle?

Answer: By banging his head against a cinder block wall for five minutes.

For most people, the loss of 30 IQ points or so should do it. Loud, dumb and obnoxious, this latest installment in what promises to be an enduring franchise -- the film's closing dialogue practically guarantees a third movie -- is not for the highbrow. Frankly, it isn't even for the middlebrow, seeing as the film's story remains as defiantly impervious to logic as its hero is to bullets.

No, Diesel's character Xander Cage, a National Security Agency operative code-named XXX for his love of extreme sports (or possibly pornography), has not returned this time. As the film opens, we learn that Cage has recently perished in Bora Bora in a tragic hang-gliding accident. (Okay, I made that last part up. Just the hang-gliding part, not Bora Bora.) This, of course, clears the way for NSA recruiter Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) to spring convicted felon and disgraced soldier Darius Stone (Ice Cube) from prison to have him assist his former commanding officer Gibbons in a new mission to uncover and foil a coup d'etat by the psychopathic secretary of defense, Gen. George Octavius Deckert (Willem Dafoe).

So what's with all the Roman-empire-sounding names? Don't ask me.

We're told that Darius ("Triple X" to Gibbons, "D" to lackluster if deeply cleavaged lady love Nona Gaye) has "special skills." But what exactly does that mean? Sure, he's unusually adept at handling all manner of muscle cars and military hardware, from pistols to tanks, but his true gift, according to Gibbons, is his "attitude" (translation: angry facial expression). Needless to say, Ice Cube brings it, as he has in almost every film he's ever made, with the possible exception of the two "Barbershop" comedies. Sadly, it's what passes for acting in a film in which practically every other scene contains a giant fireball and a half-dozen extras with assault rifles engaging in what looks like slo-mo modern dance while something blows up next to them.

"He's one man," say an overly optimistic Deckert about Darius's chances of stopping his nefarious plan. "What can one man do?"

Well, in addition to single-handedly saving the country from a military takeover, he can, in one 90-minute sitting and with one permanently cocked eyebrow, kill off several billion of my precious brain cells.

XXX: STATE OF THE UNION (PG-13, 101 minutes) -- Contains frequent action violence and some obscenity. Area theaters.

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