Review: “XXX: State of the Union”

Fans tired of the James Bond franchise’s strict adherence to its repetitive formula have said many times that it should be updated and changed to be more suited to a contemporary audience. If there was ever a piece of evidence against that argument it was the original “XXX” with Vin Diesel.

The film essentially was a prime example of what would happen if some hack American film studio executive had gotten their hands on the rights to the 007 movies and decided to do one that felt more modern, more macho and was influenced by the opinions of focus groups and test audiences picked from average suburbia. Thus the result was a dull, dumb and empty Summer blockbuster that, whilst not terrible, was what one would call a very average effort at best.

Now comes along a sequel which makes its progenitor seem like master filmmaking in comparison. For all its tired cliches and over the topness, “XXX” at least had a cohesive story and at times was quite well paced and shot (most of that goes due to the increasingly interesting work of Director Rob Cohen). “State of the Union” on the other hand is an incomprehensible mess, and not in a good way. There’s a semblance of a story in there about a US general, played by Willem Dafoe doing his routine blockbuster bad guy role, enlisting the help of corrupt members of the military to take over the Government during the President’s ‘State of the Union’ address.

Meanwhile, the franchise’s piss poor quality clones of Bond’s ‘M’ & ‘Q’ roles (a scarred Samuel L. Jackson and a techno comic relief geek respectively) go on the lam and hire a new XXX in the form of the gruff Ice Cube. Cube’s work in comedy sometimes yields results, and I could possibly buy him as an action hero but he has absolutely no charisma as Darius Stone. The arrogance and brashness fit better with him than Vin Diesel, but Cube’s dialogue is 90% lame one-liners (and that’s not an over-exaggeration) and kept to a minimum. There is nothing interesting about his character whatsoever, and attempts to tie him into the story (seems he has a history with Dafoe’s baddie) are so half-hearted it’s a joke.

Everything is shockingly bad here – the performances are a joke not because of the actors so much as the script. The story is not only old and tired but essentially all over the place – characters come and go with little purpose other than to either equip Cube with guns for an action sequence or give him something to shoot at.

Dafoe is somehow staging a military coup but one doesn’t see how as he seems to spend most of his time alone or with the President. A hot blond comes in with dubious motives, yet the whole point of her seems simply to give Cube the chance to show off that he’s not afraid to hit a woman. Scott Speedman merely sits around a room and says things like ‘lets get this guy’, whilst the less said about Nona Gaye’s car loving hooker turn the better.

By the point that Cube survives a 100 foot drop off a bridge and still manages to out swim flaming train wreckage that falls in right behind him, one can’t help but cry at the sheer stupidity. Most of the blame goes on the writers, but a lot must be placed on Director Lee Tamahori. The man was responsible for the most recent James Bond film “Die Another Day” which I quite enjoyed though with Bond one is allowed to be slightly ridiculous.

Still, he did take that film too far with some of the franchise’s silliest moments like the giant wave para-gliding sequence. In this film, without the restraints of the Broccoli’s, he goes so overboard he makes Joel Schumacher’s “Batman” movies seem almost understated. The trouble is he is no Michael Bay, and thus can’t make all these explosions and stunts look good.

I love action movies, but more and more these days it’s hard to get into them because they’re quite frankly getting dumber. When action services a good story built around an interesting array of characters and a simple yet interesting concept, you can get some truly great movies like “Die Hard”, “Predator”, the Jack Ryan and Jason Bourne franchises, and most of the Bond movies. When the idea is to simply shove together a bunch of unconnected action set pieces around a limp plot that doesn’t work even when you turn off your brain, those are the times that you get crap like this.