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'XXX: STATE OF THE UNION' Ice Cube feels the heat



Published: Fri, April 29, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



This hip-hop spectactular plays for fun, and that's all.

By ROGER MOORE

KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

Early on in the "XXX" sequel, "State of the Union," we learn that the original XXX agent, Xander Cage (Vin Diesel), has been "killed in Bora Bora," probably doing one of those extreme sports that made him the perfect "off the grid" super-secret agent.

And his fellow agents joke about it. The "new" XXX, an ex-SEAL ex-con, Darius Stone (Ice Cube), cracks wise about his predecessor's stupid risks.

Like, for instance, not wanting to do sequels to his 2002 action-franchise hit.

The new "XXX" is louder, sillier and less scenic than its Euro-romp predecessor. Director Lee Tamahori ("Die Another Day") fills the screen with bigger explosions, noisier car chases and super-sized close-ups of heroes (Ice Cube, Samuel L. Jackson), villains (Willem Dafoe) and super-duper-models (Sunny Mabrey).

Anything to take our minds "off the grid" for 100 minutes.

The story starts with a hit on the National Security Agency's secret headquarters, escalates to a jailbreak, a tank duel on an aircraft carrier and manages an assault on the U.S. Capitol, all tucked neatly inside what is essentially a longer MTV's "Pimp My Ride," with explosions.

It ends with a train chase straight out of "Polar Express," and just as believable.

The whole nine yards

"State of the Union" has an attempted military coup, a president in jeopardy (Peter Strauss) and a serious embrace of the pimped-ride culture because, when the chips are down, the guys who jack the Jaguars can be counted on to save democracy. Perfectly mindless fun, where the emphasis is on the mindless.

Ice Cube, buffed up a just enough to be convincing as a prison-hardened agent, is brought in when Gibbons (Jackson) and his team are attacked by commandos who penetrate their secret lair in Virginia farm country. The set is so James Bond cool and so expensive that Tamahori takes us back there after the hit to stage a pointless follow-up raid, perhaps because the set was already paid for.

Dafoe is a rogue secretary of defense who wants to Patriot Act his way to power. XXX and his henchmen need a lot of cool rides and a weapons stash snatched from Homeland Security (they're shipped in trucks marked "Government Cheese") to save the day.

"If Deckert [Dafoe] takes over, freedom won't be free for long," says XXX, who can wax poetic about freedom and french fries and cars. He's fond of quoting Tupac in his moments of truth.

Poor guy

Samuel L. Jackson, who has gone on the record several times with his contempt for "rappers turned actors," is back to play water-boy to Ice Cube's star turn. He has about as many scenes as car-jacking king Zeke (Xzibit). Must've been tricky to edit the sounds of Jackson's teeth-grinding off the soundtrack.

This is a hip-hop action film, from its cast to its "Here we go, y'all" filled soundtrack. The weapons are all as blinged-out as the cars (oh, to have the chrome concession on this) and the attitude is definitely sassier than most action pieces. That's fun. You have to go all the way to "Bowling for Columbine"to find a movie that takes a good cheap shot at the National Rifle Association.

Pity they didn't find some brains to go with the guts and the rides. With a script by the guy who also wrote the upcoming "Fantastic Four" and "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," "XXX: State of the Union" signals a long, dumb summer.




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