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Review: xXx2 : The Next Level – xXx: State of the Union (2005)

Directed by: Lee Tamahori | 101 minutes | , , adventure, | Actors: , , , , , , , Thom Gossom ., , , , ,

Lee Tamahori makes it very colorful. After “modernizing” the James Bond franchise with “Die Another Day” (2002), he seems to want to do just that with the already adapted Bond wannabe “xXx” for the twenty-first century. The first “xXx” was dumb and over-the-top enough, you might say, but no, it can seemingly always be “better”. The original title of the new “triple x” movie is ‘xXx: State of the Union’, which refers to the speech the president gives in the film and where the “plot”, if you can speak of this at all, is on target. The international title, “the Next Level”, is reminiscent of a video game and that is exactly what the film has become, complete with lame story and lousy computer effects. The latter is particularly evident and disturbing in the chase sequence at the end of the film.

As the Ice Cube character in this computer game you end up in a helicopter, a tank, a speedboat, a number of “pimped” and a high-speed train, most of which duel with similar vehicles and at some point is blown up. Because that is the condition: something must explode every five minutes. Now this may not even sound that unappealing. After all, what’s wrong with a nice, mindless action movie in time? Admittedly, there are still quite a few fun action scenes in the film; but in general it is a case of watching what kind of ridiculous filmmakers are now coming up with. What to think, for example, of the scene where Ice Cube manages to keep up with a high-speed train in his super-fast car and steps in using his cruise control? After first half rolling over, he lands on the track just right, then drives off his tires and continues on his rims. Now these kinds of scenes give the film a kind of campy appeal, but in the end it is not enough. Hardly any tension or involvement is created because of these logic-defying action scenes, the stupid script and the one-dimensional characters.

The film starts off quite catchy. You are less than a minute to see if a is found, after which the secret NSA department of Gibbons and co. is under attack by a group of terrorists, with over-the-top action and fun gadgets. Gibbons then recruits a new xXx agent, one with even more “attitude” than the previous one (Xander Cage). He ends up with Darius Stone, who first has to break out of prison. Gibbons can no longer use Xander Cage because, we are told, he was murdered on Bora Bora (apparently as an xXx agent you are only immortal and inhumanly strong for the length of the movie in which you appear). This whole opening, including Stone’s breakout, while unbelievable, is quite entertaining. You also have the hope that it can become an adventurous story. However, this hope is in vain: it turns out to be a trite story about a group that wants to oust the president. A group that you would almost support, when you see the wooden interpretation (by Peter Strauss) of the presidential role.

It doesn’t benefit the film that the role of the gadget sidekick (played by Michael Roof) has been expanded. Practically every time he appears on the screen or opens his mouth, which is an alarming amount, it results in a cringing moment. Ice Cube isn’t bad in the lead, but he doesn’t have a long reach: he seems to have only one facial expression, consisting of an intimidating, angry frown. He also doesn’t know how to carry the film on his own, which is necessary when Jackson, whose extended role is desirable, drops out halfway through the film. Yet “Cube” still manages to provide some scenes with humor. The blunt way in which he pushes a tray into someone’s face while undercover at a fancy party undoubtedly puts a smile on the viewer’s face; and his reaction when he is told his new name is probably similar to the reaction of the general movie audience when they were first confronted with the title of the first film: “What kind of a name is xXx? Sounds like a pornstar! ”. Willem Dafoe does not do much in his villainous role (which, by the way, looks suspiciously like Bush in terms of political ideas. His name is even George) and Scott Speedman is also not exactly memorable as the initially reluctant NSA agent Kyle Steele. The dialogue is often lousy, with many flabby one-liners spewed out by our heroes (and villains).

Furthermore, the film has to do without exotic locations or adventure missions. In that respect, the first “xXx” was a bit more interesting. The same goes for the female sidekicks. Especially Cube’s ex-girlfriend is an unnecessary addition from a “narrative point of view”. The ladies’ décolletages are clearly visible, but that is all they have to offer. You can still enjoy (rides with) some nice “tuned” cars, supplied by Mr. “Pimp My Ride” himself, Xzibit, but that was about it.

Ultimately, “xXx2: the Next Level” turned out to be (far) too incredible and uninspired an action film to be consistently captivating. Especially after the first twenty or thirty minutes, the film becomes more and more mind-numbing. Although watching is sometimes still worthwhile due to the high pulp content and the cheesy macho attitude of our friend Ice Block, the film cannot be called good by any sane person.

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