Josh Bell

Poor Vin Diesel. Sure, the star of the original XXX can console himself with the massive box office of his kiddie flick, The Pacifier, but since he passed on the XXX sequel, State of the Union, his character, Xander Cage, is unceremoniously killed off in a throwaway line, and characters spend the first 20 minutes of the film talking about how lame the first movie was. Sadly, that's the most amusing part of State of the Union, which plays less like a sequel to XXX than a parody of it and the whole action genre, and that only gets it so far.

The new XXX is Darius Stone (Cube), an ex-military ex-con recruited by program leader Augustus Gibbons (the returning Samuel L. Jackson). His mission is to stop a covert coup by the corrupt Secretary of Defense (Dafoe, on sneering villain autopilot), while driving a bunch of tricked-out cars, delivering cheesy one-liners, and blowing up everything in sight.

Mission accomplished. Cube is more charismatic than Diesel, although less adept at carrying out impressive stunts, and he's clearly having a good time. Ditto the rest of the cast, including accomplished actors Jackson and Dafoe, and Scott Speedman as Darius' government contact. The mocking tone encompasses both the original XXX (who gets derided for his extreme sports skills) as well as the new version, and there's a certain knowing camp quality that keeps the film marginally entertaining.

Once you get past the wink-and-nudge jokes, though, it's all standard action-movie fare, with explosions every few minutes and a mostly incoherent plot. There are a number of set pieces with obvious, poorly rendered CGI, and while the extreme-sports angle of the original is the target of jokes, it did give that film a unique angle that State of the Union lacks.

If all you're interested in are nice cars, things exploding and facile attempts at political and cultural commentary, then State of the Union will be right up your alley. Given all the options at the multiplex, it deserves some credit for at least making a passing attempt at intelligence, and filling its cast with likable, capable actors. Director Tamahori made the James Bond movie, Die Another Day, and State of the Union is just cheeky, loud and goofy enough to achieve its unspoken goal of making XXX the James Bond franchise of the new millennium.

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