xXx: State of the Union (5/10)

by Tony Medley

I have no way of knowing whether, when people saw “Casablanca” (1942) the first time, they recognized that when Humphrey Bogart said, “Play it, Sam. You played it for her. You can play it for me,” that the line would be mysteriously remembered as “Play it again, Sam,” and the scene would become a classic. But I know that I saw a classic scene tonight between Ice Cube (XXX/Jarius Stone) and Sunny Mabrey (Charlie). It is so devoid of acting talent that it should be shown in film school to stand for the proposition that acting talent is not required to appear in, and star, in a major motion picture. This film is worth seeing just to watch this scene. They deliver their lines as if they are reading a cue card and have never before seen the lines. I was a little surprised one of them didn’t squint to try to see more clearly what they were required to say. I'm tempted to say that Ice Cube and Mabrey are to acting what rap is to music, but I won't because somebody reading this might think rap is melodic with profound lyrics. Then again, if there is such a person, that person would undoubtedly think that Ice Cube and Mabrey are in the same realm as Russell Crowe and Laurence Olivier.

It’s difficult to classify the genre of this movie. A thriller is intelligently written, has a coherent story and good actors. The viewer is concerned with the protagonist and fears for his/her safety. Clearly, this is not a thriller. An action movie is one with terrific, well, action. The stunts are spectacular but are at least barely believable. Action movies rely on a good director for success, like “The Bourne Supremacy” directed last year by Paul Greengrass. Clearly, this is not an action movie. By process of elimination, this can only qualify for the dumb genre.

There really is not much of a plot in this, just unbelievable stunts and lots of destruction and noise. Ostensibly, the evil Secretary of Defense, Octavius Deckert (Willem Dafoe), is trying to overthrow the government of President James Sanford (Peter Strauss). Trying to thwart them is Agent Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson), who enlists the aid of Jarius Stone and breaks him out of prison in a jailbreak that is so over the top that it telegraphs to the viewer that nothing is to be taken seriously in this film.

Stone is in jail for 20 years and blames Gibbons. Gibbons visits him and tells him to be in the yard at a specific time the next day. This leads Stone to engineer the most preposterous jail break ever filmed, too ridiculous to be described.

From that point it just gets worse. The unfortunate part of films like this is that there is absolutely no tension because, despite the millions of bullets being fired at everyone, none hit the stars and all will end well. So we are left to watch the firepower and chases and stunts and listen to the noise.

Speaking of noise, the sound track is atrocious. I’m sure there are people who like rap music, but I’m not one of them. I wished I had brought ear plugs. But what would you expect from a movie starring Ice Cube?

There is not even one second in this film that requires conscious thought, other than to ask yourself, “how could anybody put this on the screen?” Consistent with the dumb genre, which is populated by untalented people, there is widespread mayhem, which contributes to a serious problem of violence in our society by trivializing injury and death. Dumb as it is, devoid of acting talent as it is (at the top, at least), it did keep me awake.

April 26, 2005