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Take Two 

by Mark Savlov

XXX is dead; long live XXX. Xander Cage, the former super-agent/bad-ass of 2002's Rob Cohen-directed XXX, has been killed in the line of kickassery, and so NSA spookster Augustus Gibbons (a scarified Samuel L. Jackson) recruits one of his old Navy Seal buddies to be the new XXX. (The cause of death remains unexplained here, but I like to imagine the swarthy Agent Cage was devoured by a mechanical shark piloted by Captain Nemo while parasailing the Matterhorn in the nude. While on fire.) Wouldn't you know, it turns out to be Ice Cube's Darius Stone, who's spent the last nine years sitting in the brig for his pesky attitude problems.

Like Stone, this film itself has attitude problems -- chief among them a penchant for over-the-top action set-pieces that come so fast and so furious that it's a wonder you don't have whiplash by film's end. Normally I'd say that's a good thing, but XXX: State of the Union just doesn't know when to kick things down a notch, and so you exit the theatre suspecting you've just watched one of the slyest action parodies in ages. The feeling is only heightened when you consider State of the Union against Tamahori's wrenching breakout film, the emotionally riveting Maori tale Once Were Warriors, which is about as far afield from this explosions-and-testosterone shebang-bang as you could possibly fathom.

The plot has Stone and Scott Speakman's smooth white-guy agent attempting to curtail a bloody coup on the White House by the Secretary of State (Willem Dafoe). Now, any administration that places Dafoe in the cabinet - unless of course, it's a display cabinet, with Dafoe stuffed and mounted - deserves all the coups they're likely to get. In the world of XXX, however, everyone's oblivious to the jingoistic whack job until it's far too late -- though not so late that Stone and company can't have a ball with some of the film's well-integrated CGI effects, which include a zippy battle on top of and aboard the presidential bullet train (!) and wealth of gorgeous, pricey automobiles getting blown all to hell.

"James Bond for a new generation" was how the original XXX was marketed. Even that ridiculous film was ridiculously fun, thanks in large part to the gravelly cipher Vin Diesel and the lovely Euro-bomb Asia Argento (daughter of Italian filmmaker Dario). State of the Union, while an exciting enough diversion for a lazy Saturday afternoon popcorn fix, is really 10 times too much, a nonstop orgy of bullets, bombs, and booty that aims low and hits the bull's-eye with enough firepower to sink the Bismarck.

On the plus side, Samuel L. Jackson looks like he's trying to stifle a giggle-fit half the time. So will you.

Publication date: 05/05/05

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