XXX: State of the Union

by

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.

comment