Wednesday, May 4, 2005

XXX: State of the Union

Posted By on Wed, May 4, 2005 at 12:00 AM

Ice Cube may be many things, but he’s not what you’d call an action hero. In an attempt to fill the shoes of Vin Diesel, Cube’s newly beefed-up biceps bulge through his rolled-up prison shirtsleeves, he ices entire SWAT teams with his bare hands, he high-dives off suspension bridges — but to little avail. He’s still the same squat, stout, soft-around-the-middle gangsta he’s always been, more at home delivering put-downs to competing rappers (or, in the case of the Friday and Barbershop movies, comedians) than he is at spitting out Schwarzeneggeresque one-liners. Cube may have the subversive, anti-authoritarian sneer down pat — so much so, that one might expect a “sneer coach” listed in the credits — but other than that, he’s ill-suited for the role of monosyllabic world-saver.

As dumb and generic as it is, there’s enough in XXX: State of the Union to make you hope it’ll add up to more than the sum of its parts. For an action flick, the plot is surprisingly left-wing: A psychotic, war-mongering, Rumsfeld-like secretary of defense (Willem Dafoe) is bent on proliferating weapons and keeping the military-industrial complex rich. Setting out to become leader of the free world, he covertly assassinates everyone in his way, including a peace-loving president (Peter Strauss) who, it’s safe to say, is not modeled after G.W. Bush. (Sample quote: “I want to reverse this isolationism!”) It’s up to the top-secret security team led by Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) to find the one man fierce enough to help prevent the coup.

Most of State of the Union plays like a noncomedic version of Undercover Brother, with Cube driving around in tricked-out Ford products, engaging in inept attempts at espionage, and blowing up entire D.C. city blocks with impunity. The best moments are when he and Jackson share the screen; you get the feeling that the seasoned Jackson brings out the best in Cube, at least more so than the hammy Dafoe. Director Lee Tamahori (Die Another Day) knows a thing or two about staging a cool explosion — this movie is a pyromaniac’s wet dream — but he’s not as good with the dull, CGI-laden action scenes. By the time the climactic chase rolls around, you’ll think you’re watching a Playstation game — which probably would be a better use of cash than a ticket to this flick.

Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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