After assassins infiltrate his secret government agency, Agent Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) seeks out a new XXX agent to help him investigate a growing conspiracy plot. Gibbons turns to Darius Stone (Ice Cube), a falsely imprisoned soldier who is looking to exact a little revenge on the general (Willem Dafoe, cashing a check) who put him behind bars. Armed with weapons, sassmouth, and (I guess) unlimited resources, Darius infiltrates government levels his own way in an effort to find out who is planning to take over the presidency in the name of homeland security.
Well, if you can get past the endless racket, thunderous balls of fire, frightful acting, lousy special effects, monotone rap soundtrack, Dafoe on auto-pilot, wacky plot, a Casio-meets-Steve Vai score, some shameless pandering to the urban audience, the glorification of illegal lifestyles, and the fact that every female character has stilettos and Himalayan-like cleavage, you might enjoy one of the most needless sequels around, "XXX: State of the Union" (IMDb listing). Of course, even at its lowest point, "Union" is still resoundingly better than 2002's original, and appalling, "XXX."
Ice Cube takes over the crispy action reigns for this new outing, and while Cube possesses no known acting skills, he does have a very specific charm that some other directors have figured out how to use properly. Cube is miles more entertaining than the last XXX, Vin Diesel, and in terms of small victories, that is a big one for the production. "Union" imagines Cube as a thugged-out Arnold Schwarzenegger: always quick with his fists, weapons, and a quip, and rarely breaking a smile. Cube is suited for the microscopic delights to be found in the film, and he looks like he's having fun trying to imagine himself an African-American version of James Bond. Too bad that fun doesn't extend to his performance, which is wooden and charmless when he's clearly demonstrated before that he can be quite the opposite. In an effort to butch up for the role, Cube clams up, and is eventually swallowed by the nonstop fireworks bonanza Sony is trying to trick people into calling a "movie."
Written by Simon Kinberg (the upcoming "Fantastic Four"), it's almost impossible to blame the cast for their performances when Kinberg has written nothing but hammy, cliched dialog for everyone, along with dreadful one-liners to punctuate the action sequences. Director Lee Tamahori ("Die Another Day") appears to be at a loss with the written word, so his job is to blow everything up every 10 minutes. Tamahori does this job well, but the effect grows wearisome right after the snazzy opening infiltration sequence. "Union" eventually settles on a deafening, shapeless roar for the rest of the picture, paying only casual attention to character, logic, style, and universal appeal (watch with head-slapping attention as the white weapons expert character urges everyone to "crunk" with him). By the end of the film, when Darius hilariously hops in a car to catch the President's supertrain, "Union" becomes a flat-out cartoon, with Tamahori feverishly editing the action in a way that can only suggest that he's embarrassed by his own movie. Heavens, he should be.
"Union" stays far away from the silly "extreme" sports angle of the original film, along with ditching director Rob Cohen's obsession with pointing out how "uncool" James Bond is. Unfortunately, Tamahori doesn't want to get rid of the other nagging, hostile problems that plague this rancid franchise, and while "State of the Union" aggressively goes after a new audience and star, it pathetically shares the same monster-truck-show level of grandstanding and lack of production subtlety. The ending promises a third installment, but I have a perfect way to recreate the "XXX" experience at home for cheap: simply run headfirst at top speed into a brick wall. Popcorn optional.
Filmfodder Grade: D