I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

xXx: State of the Union

When Rob Cohen, the director of the original XXX first talked about a sequel, it was still gonna star Vin Diesel. And I read some interview where he said one of the ideas he had took place in Washington DC, and it would have a scene where Vin rode a mountain bike up the capital dome.

Well it’s a low down shame we didn’t get to see that but otherwise XXX2 (which ended up being made with Ice Cube instead of Diesel and Lee Tamahori instead of Cohen) is more fun than the first one in almost every way. I’m not saying it’s a good action movie or even a great bad movie, but as an honest individual who tells it like it is I gotta cop to enjoying the fuckin thing.

It’s almost like they read my mind, or at least my review of the first one. They dumped the whole “action sports” angle completely and even make a joke or two about it. They got less of the standard action (skiing, motorcycles) and more of the over-the-top (flying boats, cars, tanks, trains, etc.). They made it more American – no fuckin dreary, snowy european villas, no boring greasy haired euro-trash villains, no shitty German heavy metal music. This one’s in Washington DC and the villain is Willem Dafoe as the secretary of defense. In my review of the first one I pointed out that the NSA has a “break a few eggs to make an omelette” philosophy while Vin Diesel’s was “never leave a man behind.” This time they shifted it so that the good guys are the people within the government who want peace and getting along and saving innocent lives, the bad guys are the warmongers who don’t mind killing people to get their way. Ice Cube’s character is tied to Sam Jackson’s big cheese Augustus Gibbons with an Above-the-Lawian backstory where Dafoe was their general who was burning down civilian homes, and they were the guys who went in and tried to save the civilians.

xXx: State of the UnionOne positive I didn’t ask for in my review: there’s way more Sam Jackson in this one.

Most importantly though, Ice Cube’s character Darrius Stone is more like a genuine anti-establishment hero, not some corny skateboarding sellout in a fur coat like Vin Deisel’s Xander Cage. “The new XXX” as they actually call him in the movie starts out in a military prison. For a minute I wondered if he was the same character he played in Three Kings. Then I figured out he was sort of like, what if Ice Cube from NWA – never shoulda been let out the penitentiary – what if he went straight outta compton and into the Navy SEALS, an experience that turned him into a Seagalian one-man-army-with-a-conscious. In fact, during the standard Just How Badass Is This Guy scene (you know, the scene where a bunch of authority figures stand around in a room with computer screens talking about the hero’s incredible training and accomplishments), one of the old photos we see is NWA Ice Cube with his jheri curls and Raiders hat.

Cube’s not Doughboy here, he’s in better shape than you’ve ever seen him, and looks semi-believable fighting, jumping, climbing, swimming, driving and rapelling. He has three different inventor/equipper types on his team: his hot ex-girlfriend (high end souped up sports cars), his buddy Xzibit (quit Pimp My Ride to run chop shop, jacks tanks for him) and “College boy” (wacky white dude in sweater vest from the first movie, shows Cube fanciful inventions that he never bothers to use).

The bad guys are apparently killing off NSA agents as preparation for a coup. They use high tech equipment (including the military equivalent of the Phantasm flying disc) to attack Gibbons’s secret underground lair, which now includes a big “XxX” logo on the wall. I wonder if that was Xander Cage’s idea. “Hey guys, why don’t you make a giant sign out of my tattoo?” Gibbons has to make his escape in a badass car and goes underground – he actually has to bust Cube out of the joint, and has another fed with the triple-x-ian name of Kyle Steele after him (don’t worry, you know he’s on the up and up because he’s the guy who played Ben on Felicity).

Please note the character who turns out to be evil, then the next time you see her she’s wearing low cut black leather. Cat’s out of the bag, might as well put on the evil leather.

Now, if there is somebody out there who really enjoys the first movie, I’m not sure they would agree with me that this one is better. I mean you could make a legitimate argument that it’s not as good because without the whole snowboarding/videotaping/energy drink/Playstation gimmick it’s not quite as retarded. There is nothing as hilariously ridiculous as Xander Cage’s little speech about censoring rap music and video games. But I think as a whole it’s far more entertaining. Part 1 has alot of good laughs during the first third or so, but the second two thirds is mostly lifeless James Bond retread. Part 2 gets bogged down for a section of exposition/set up before the big finale, but the other three fourths held my attention. Good job, other three fourths. Especially the part where he was driving a car with no tires 160 mph on train tracks.

Also you gotta look at the subtext. For part 1, Vin Diesel was a rebel and underground folk hero or whatever, but the government tamed him, made him their bitch and left him laying on a fuckin beach working on his tan. The subtext was that the Man was right, the counterculture was wrong, and he might as well cash in, get paid and get laid. Thanks alot for that important message, Rob Cohen. For part 2, it’s a little better. This time the XXX agency is for people who love their country but not everything it does. Okay, so it’s kind of hard to take a movie right now where the president is a good guy, but the reason he’s a good guy is because he’s unveiling a new foreign policy that is the opposite of what we’re doing now. Vin Diesel’s mission was just the usual saving the world, Cube’s was more like saving our republic. And in the end, the credit goes to the cops and the white guy, and Cube drives off to an unknown future, leaving the Man and his woman behind.

There’s a scene where the heroes are all on top of a tank, driving toward a big action setpiece. And the song on the soundtrack is some shitty white rock band shitting all over that song “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy. In a sense this is symbolic of the whole movie: a little piece of genuine raging against the machine that’s been watered down and amped up and turned into a big dumb collage of daring jumps and fiery explosions. In fact, somebody pointed out to me that the guitar player from Rage Against the Machine is on the credits for “additional guitar.” Add him to Ice Cube and Public Enemy (who do a new song on the end credits) and you got three countercultural icons of the late ’80s/early ’90s, all working on a sequel to a Rob Cohen movie. That’s pretty sad when you look at it that way. But the glass is half full too. At least they managed to get an anti-war song playing in every multiplex in america for a couple weeks, the phrase “grand theft oil” ringing through the heads of the kids that have to clean up all the popcorn and shit.

* * *

Maybe you’re wondering what happened to Xander Cage. Not because he’s a memorable character or anything, but you’re just curious how they explained changing leads. All they say is that he was killed in Tora Bora. To get the details you gotta see the special edition DVD of XXX, which includes a really ridiculous 4 minute short called “The Final Chapter: The Death of Xander Cage.” It stars Vin Diesel’s stunt double, who you only see from the back or below the chin, and he only has one line, recycled from the movie. Funny thing is, even though it’s his stunt double, he never does any stunts. Asia Argento’s character, now played by some porn actress, gets kidnapped by a SWAT team. (No mention of this in the sequel.) Then Xander goes into a building that immediately blows up. His fur coat flies out the window, then something else… a sizzling pile of ears and skin from the back of his head, including the XXX tattoo, perfectly intact! Then some guy comes and picks up the skin pile, now on fire, and makes a quip. The identity of the killer seems to be important, but I didn’t recognize him from either part 1 or part 2. I guess that one’s for someone who gives a shit to figure out.

The end of part 2 sets you up for another new lead if there’s ever a part 3. The idea now is that Augustus Gibbons ties the movies together, and each time he hires a new and more outrageous anti-James-Bond. Obviously they’ll go for a girl next time, that’ll knock our socks off. But here are some other suggestions on directions they could go for an outrageous XXX #3:

  1. This time, XXX is an old guy! I was thinkin Clint but somebody suggested Kris Kristofferson, and that idea can’t be topped. He’s always muttering about I can’t believe they’re makin me do this shit and that kind of thing. And he’s got the tattoo on the back of his neck. Bill Cosby would also work.
  2. Danny Trejo. He plays ex-cons all the time, good guys occasionally, but never the leading man. It would be EXTREME!
  3. some albino dude might be cool
  4. That Chinese basketball player that’s like 8 or 9 feet tall. No subtitles.
  5. Mr. T
  6. John McClane
  7. the other members of NWA besides Ice Cube
  8. If he plays his cards right, Michael Jackson. Let’s say he’s found innocent in his trial. In the movie, he’s in prison, so we get to see what that would look like. Then they bust him out, and he works all kinds of dancing and shit into his fights. They make him a special boomerang hat weapon. This could be fuckin unreal. This is probaly the best idea there is.
  9. Olympian XXX. All the stunts are like lifting weights and throwing spears and crap. And pole vaulting.
  10. XXX in a wheelchair, but he still does awesome stunts like jumping off a bridge and crap, and his chair has all kinds of weapons and parachutes built in. He has real muscular arms from rolling around all the time, and maybe prosthetic legs with guns and bombs built in. Then at the end they give him robotic legs so he can run around.
  11. all of the above, working as an ensemble

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Friday, April 29th, 2005 at 4:46 pm and is filed under Action, Crime, Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

11 Responses to “xXx: State of the Union”

  1. I love this review. Part 2 is far more entertaining then part 1.

  2. Both XXX pictures are quite too silly/lame for my taste, but #2 I must admit…they certainly went for broke on that element and didn’t try to be legitimately serious or whatever.

    BTW, isn’t Diesel supposedly back for #3? I wonder if he does that before Even More Fast & Furious?

  3. Damn right it is! I saw this in the cinema with some friends when it came out and we had a ball. At the time I hadn’t seen the first xXx. I rented it about a week later and struggled to even finish it. Somone got me the double pack for my birthday that year, and I couldn’t even watch xXx a second time all the way through. I had to switch on Rob Cohen’s commentary to make it to the end, and yes, that was more interesting. That said, I caught a bit of xXx on TV last year and Vin Diesel is oddly hilarious in it. But the movie is still dull as dishwater, and the look of the film even has a bit of dishwater-y texture to it.

  4. I meant someone rather than Somone. I don’t know anyone named Somone, and if I did I doubt they’d be the type to buy me a xXx double pack.

    Also when I said “damn right it is” I was responding to travis dane’s post, I hadn’t seen RRA’s.

  5. My favorite part is when X-Cubed figures out the evil plan by STANDING THREE FEET AWAY FROM THE BAD GUYS AND EAVESDROPPING. Note to villains: When plotting a coup, find a room with a door that locks. Don’t just stand there in a crowd of people, many of whom are your friends and colleagues, and discuss your treasonous intent. Even a waiter who isn’t a secret agent in disguise might mention it to his supervisor or something.

  6. I like that the scene sort of makes a statement about class. To him Cube is just “the help” so he doesn’t even think of him as a person. Bronson uses a similar trick in one of the Death Wishes. I’m a sucker for that stuff.

  7. I can see that reading, but think about it without delving into any subtext. That was Cube’s whole plan? I’ll go stand next to him kind of holding this tray in front of my face and he’ll immediately tell me everything I need to know?

  8. Villains can be quite careless. God knows how many died at Bond’s hands all because they had to go on their monologue of a fucking speech instead of finishing the job, or at least killing him.

    If the bad liver or STDs don’t do it for him first.

    Saw FOR YOUR EYES ONLY this morning, and that baddie (Henry Ford proxy from LAST CRUSADE) isn’t as bad as those 007 baddie sorts tend to do. He just gets killed by friggin Fiddler on the Roof. Not exactly something he can brag in the afterlife.

  9. I will admit, I thought that I was one of the very few on this planet who actually liked this movie. I actually liked it better than the first one. Don’t get me wrong, the first one is still entertaining, but it was a little cheesy. xXx: SotU is still cheesy but at least it didn’t take itself seriously. Plus, this didn’t really try to be like the anti-Bond movie that the first one did.

  10. Somebody necessarily lend a hand to make seriously articles I might state. That is the very first time I frequented your web page and to this point? I surprised with the analysis you made to create this particular put up amazing. Excellent job!

  11. Having revisited this one I do have some observations that would be a bit too much of a tangent for the hopefully inevitable Part Trois Talkback. Firstly, it’s kind of lazy that they introduce the President with Regan’s infamous “How many trees do you have to look at?” quote (which he actually said as governor), and ultimately rather baffling when he turns out to be a liberal president who advocates reducing military spend and intervention to fund international aid, which doesn’t sound much like The Gipper. But watching a film where a hot-headed tyrant tries to usurp a democratic and rational President did make it strangely apt viewing for Trump’s inauguration day

    Sadly I can’t say I like this one as much as I did back then. It’s tacky, choppy and dumb in a way that goes even beyond/beneath your expectations for this type of thing, and the pandering attempts at appealing to a young black audience from the writer of MR & MRS SMITH frequently made me wince. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say the garish colour scheme and CGI made me pine for our current(ish) Orange & Teal fixation, it did help me understand it a little bit more. And though it remains a bore for the most part, the first movie maybe does actually have more cultural worth in crystallising what made much of the 00s such an obnoxious and barren time for popular culture. But it’s still kind of fun in places and certainly an easier sit. Given his comments promoting DIE ANOTHER DAY (e.g. “If this guy goes into a Casino, I’m walking”), I wonder if this was Lee Tamahori’s ultimate vision for a James Bond film?

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