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XXX: STATE OF THE UNION

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Ice Cube, Willem Dafoe, Scott Speedman, Peter Strauss, Samuel L. Jackson
Director: Lee Tamahori
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Sony Home Entertainment
Features: See Review
Length: 101 Minutes
Release Date: July 26, 2005

“The fate of the free world in the hands of hustlers and thieves.”

“How’s that different from any other night?”

Film ***

Some sequels deliver large quantities of surprises, such is the case with XXX: State of the Union. The first thing to take notice of is the fact that Vin Diesel, the star of the first XXX, is nowhere to be seen in this installment. My first thought was, could the sequel possibly be any better if with a new star in the lead. The answer, to my immediate surprise, is yes.

The simple truth of the matter is, I found this to be even better than the first movie, but the reason for this hardly has anything to do with doable replacement Ice Cube as the new XXX agent, but because that this one is a lot better paced, with more outrageous action sequences, and an even bigger acknowledgement that it’s all a big silly, ridiculously plotted movie with one goal in mind, to up the ante on big, loud, incredible stunts.

With Diesel no longer in the picture, the movie takes the daring opportunity to mention that his character, Xander Cage, was actually killed while on leave in Bora Bora. That info gives recruiting agent Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) a reason to establish a brand new agent in the XXX program, one with even more skill, more attitude, and a huge level of resourcefulness in the most unlikely of areas.

With that in mind, Gibbons looks to imprisoned soldier Darius Stone (Ice Cube), who was a member in his military unit, and who has a talent for disobeying direct orders. Stone is currently serving a twenty year sentence for assaulting a four star general, who just so happens to now be the Secretary of Defense (Willem Dafoe). Gibbons, through an elaborate maneuver, sets up a chance for Stone to escape from prison and take his hired position.

His assignment is to look into an attack which occurred on a secret CIA operating base, where a group of masked men wiped out up to sixteen agents, with Gibbons being one of the few survivors of the attack. It doesn’t take him long to realize that the very man responsible for the attack may have come from someone closely tied to the oval office. Gibbons suspects that each member of his old unit has been targeted by a secret enemy, and Stone believes that an overthrow of the U.S. government might be in the works.

Meanwhile, another agent, Kyle Steele (Scott Speedman), completely unaffiliated with Gibbons’ program, is hard at work looking into both the attack on the agency, in addition to chasing down the elusive Stone. The mysterious agent manages to show up to surprise Steele and his team during every possible development. Each run in leads to Steele receiving another piece of damaged property on account of Stone.

Perhaps the most engaging plot element is when Stone, feeling the need to take the fight right to the streets of D.C., looks to help from his old urban associates, in particular childhood buddy Zeke (Xzibit), who regularly specialize in jacking and chopping up cars. He then forms his own little quasi-military unit, and soon the streets of Washington are ravaged by tanks and other deadly equipment.

Director Lee Tamahori, who helmed the last James Bond outing, Die Another Day, is a most fitting replacement for XXX director Rob Cohen, who shifted to co-producer. He has crafted the movie into exactly what it needs to be and nothing more; an endless series of wall-to-wall action sequences with a mindless, self-kidding sense of itself.

The movie contains two of the ballsiest, most jaw dropping action scenes this side of a Michael Bay movie. The first has Stone playing a deadly game of hide and seek inside a tank on board an aircraft carrier, with explosive results. The second is a full throttle climax involving a speeding bullet train, which Stone pursues in a high speed convertible…RIGHT ON THE TRAIN TRACKS! This is one movie that really knows how to craft some big time, over the top action.

So, in short, I did like the first XXX, but am surprised to say that I liked, and was even more blown away by XXX: State of the Union. Where the first one had a few flaws in its pacing of the action, this one more than makes up for. And if you are one who doesn’t possess the ability to check your brain at the door prior to watching a movie, than this one definitely not for you.

Everyone else…enjoy with a bang!

Video ****

Sony’s dynamite anamorphic presentation (Full Screen available separately) is as big and bright as one of the many bursts of fire you will pay witness to in the movie. The image consists of sharp as a blade tones, with sets looking most magnificent, equal ounces of clarity for both day shots and night shots, and not a single image flaw to be detected in sight.

Audio ****

All I can say is hold on to your sofa or chair, because the furious 5.1 mix is as loud an as explosive as any disc I’ve heard all year. Being an action movie, you’d expect a movie like this to do some serious work to the channels, and this one does just that, and then some. Everything is in top-notch form, from dialogue delivery to music playback (many dynamically delivered tracks here), and as for the action, this disc pushes the sound factor as high as possible. Truly, one of the best sounding discs you will come across this year!

Features ****

Sony delivers one locked and loaded Special Edition release, including two commentary tracks; one with the filmmakers, the second with the visual effects team. Also included are deleted scenes with optional commentary, 3 featurettes; “From Convict to Hero: The Making of XXX: State of the Union”, “Top Secret Military Warehouse” and “XXX According to Ice Cube”. Lastly, there are four breakdown angles of the bullet train sequence with director introduction, and bonus previews.

Summary:

XXX: State of the Union is one of the all around best examples of big-time, go for broke action movies of recent memory, and it’s even better than the first movie. Strap yourself in for one fast paced, gargantuan thrill machine, and one of the most explosive discs you’ll hear and see all year!

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