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Straight To Hell Returns

Post-Repo Man cult favorite returns with improved special effects —John Adams (review...)

Alex Cox returns... Straight to Hell

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A better title for xXx: State of the Union would be why WHY why. It’s quite possibly the most horrendously ill-conceived sequel in the history of the moving image.

Location, Location, Location

xXx was loudly trumpeted as the next big action franchise, following in the flashy footsteps of James Bond. A spy flick for the snowboard set, the original failed in many ways, but it did manage to deliver something akin to a character in Xander Cage (Vin Diesel, The Fast and the Furious).

Alas, never before has a “franchise” fallen apart so quickly. One movie does not a franchise make, much like one World Series championship does not make a dynasty.

xXx scored at the box office, but inexplicably the franchise concept flamed out with such spectacularly dizzying speed, Diesel’s xXx is relegated to merely a brief mention in this sequel; it’s a scene in which an agent announces Xander was killed the night before in Bora Bora.

The NexXxt Level My Butt

Let’s step back to the new “Uncensored Unrated Director’s Cut” DVD of xXx (which still, by the way, sports a PG-13 MPAA label prior to the film’s start). In this crass piece of cross-promotion, audiences get to witness the demise of Xander. Well, sorta. Diesel is nowhere to be found in this embarrassingly awful and inconsequential piece of tripe relegated to Disc 2 of the set (the dude gets blown up in a building for Pete’s sake!). In Diesel’s place, viewers get to stare at the back of the bald head of Diesel’s stunt double for five minutes.

No matter what the purveyors of this dreck say in their promotional interviews, it was never intended that xXx be a series of unrelated adventures centering on a different criminal-turned-world-saving-hero in each new episode.

It’s evident listening to xXx director Rob Cohen’s DVD commentary that both he and Diesel were totally infatuated with the character of Xander Cage. They invested considerable time in setting up the character. He was to be the xXxtreme sports master who saves the world by exposing corruption and double standards (sometimes while also breaking several laws). He was the bad ass who sported a large red xXx tattoo on the back of his neck, a tattoo that Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction) mocked and derided.

So now we are to believe that was some sort of coinky-dink? In State of the Union, xXx is emblazoned on the shiny steel doors of the National Security Agency’s underground headquarters. Dang if that logo wasn’t there in the first one!

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

So what is State of the Union about?

Does it really matter?

The story, such as it is, focuses on Darius Stone (Ice Cube, Torque), wrongly imprisoned for some convoluted reason or another who is “released” from prison in order to serve his country.

This being an action movie, it’s not enough that the NSA works some cloak and dagger magic to get him released with as little fanfare as possible. Instead, since they apparently have no clout for such negotiations to get criminals released under NSA recognizance, Gibbons and his boyz execute a full blown barnstorming breakout featuring human casualties, property damage, and a stupendously stupid leap from the jailhouse roof to a helicopter.

There ya go. That’s subtlety. The bigger joke is that, after all the mayhem, Gibbons says they need to keep a low profile in the bad part of town while they prepare for World War IV.

Hello? What happened to World War III? Or is that whole world war thing just another shoddy, sloppy “franchise” that bounces around with no logic?

World War IV would theoretically break out after Secretary of Defense George Deckert (Willem Dafoe, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou) pulls off a quadruple assassination that would bring him to the front of the line as the new president of the United States. He’s far more aggressive than the current peacenik leader, President Sanford (Peter Strauss, Nick of Time).

Action Packed, But Nowhere To Go

The action comes fast and furious (no pun intended) but it amounts to less than nothing. There’s no pathos, no drama, no concern because there is simply no reason to give a flying handshake about any of the poorly drawn, stereotypical characters in this mess.

Under Lee Tamahori’s direction, this magnum opus manages to make Tamahori’s outrageously over-the-top James Bond caper, Die Another Day, look like a veritable BBC documentary on espionage. The action jumps from scene to scene without a trace of rhyme or reason.

More disconcerting, though, is that the screenplay is credited to Simon Kinberg. That bodes ill for the writer’s other high profile projects, the upcoming Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Fantastic Four, and X-Men 3.

Amidst all the expensive (yet incredibly unremarkable) CGI visual effects, the most daring “stunt” of all involves product placement. It’s a scene in which Darius heats up Banquet brand frozen dinners in a microwave. If those things are deemed too toxic to be allowed into Stately Matt Manor, there’s no way they’re going to find their way into the posh D.C. mansion of a well-heeled and high-ranking general in the U.S. military.

That’s just common sense, people.

Franchise Sabotage

The saddest thing is even Columbia Pictures wouldn’t pay to see this movie. The aforementioned “Uncensored Unrated” xXx DVD offers not a free ticket, as most other DVD cross-promotions have offered in the past, but a coupon for $7.50 toward admission to State of the Union.

Even in moderately priced Denver, an evening adult ticket still runs $9.00. While it wouldn’t sound good if the coupon boasted of a “free matinee” admission, it’s certainly telling when the film’s distributor isn’t even willing to cough up the bucks for a full price ticket.

Who knows what twists and turns lie ahead for this xXx “franchise.” The whole concept has gone so far askew from the original course, it feels like one of those odd Hollywood stories wherein those most intimately involved in the project know the least.

For xXx Cubed, the best move would be to bring back Xander. After all, he didn’t die in Bora Bora. His stunt double did.