xXx: The Next Level Review

How bad is xXx: The Next Level? So bad that it puts into persective the badness of other recent stinkers like The Amityville Horror and The Wedding Date. Those films are simply mediocre: competently made but without style or imagination. The xXx sequel is terrible in every way. Its writing, acting and film-making are of a quality you'd expect to find in a 1980s no-brainer starring Dolph Lundgren or Michael Dudikoff. The first xXx was no masterpiece but at least it delivered the goods as a silly action flick, a diversion for a dull Sunday afternoon. Even on that level, the sequel fails miserably.

Let's start with the writing, which is by Simon Kinberg, currently the hottest action writer in Hollywood. He wrote two of this summer's biggies - Mr & Mrs Smith and The Fantastic Four - and he's currently working on X-Men 3. His work on xXx: The Next Level does not bode well for those films. This is little more than a string of second-hand action sequences strung together, poorly, with a half-baked conspiracy plot.

The President of the United States (Peter Strauss) is planning to announce a less aggressive foreign policy as part of his state of the union address (hence the American title - xXx: State Of The Union). His hawkish secretary of defence, General Deckert (Willem Dafoe) is not happy about this and he's concocted a plot to assassinate the president, the vice president and most of the cabinet, leaving him to take over the White House.

The film's politics are obviously intended to appeal to Bushophobic moviegoers who lapped up Fahrenheit 9/11 but hang on a minute. The president's plan is to cut defence spending and put the money into foreign aid, which will, I quote, "turn America's enemies into its allies". Eh? Whatever your feelings about Bush's foreign policy, America's enemies - chiefly North Korea and Iran - are among the vilest regimes on earth and what the president is proposing to do is bribe them to be on America's side. That's dumber and less ethical than anything Bush has done.

How does Deckert hope to get away with his assassination anyway, especially since he intends to use former subordinates of his as scapegoats? In our conspiracy-minded time, wouldn't someone find it mightily suspicious that men connected to Deckert caused the massacre that made him president? Michael Moore would have a field day.

Back to the storyline. Deckert kicks off his grand scheme with a pre-emptive attack on the covert intelligence agency run by Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L Jackson). Gibbons escapes, along with comic relief Q substitute Toby (Michael Roof), and he decides he needs an agent with attitude to discover who's behind the attack. Unfortunately his last agent with attitude, Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) has just been killed on a mission. This is announced so casually and with so little reaction from Cage's colleagues that we must deduce the filmmakers are still pissed off that Vin Diesel refused to return for the sequel. Further evidence: one of the corpses in the film is a Diesel lookalike.

A new agent with attitude is required and Gibbons settles on Darius Stone (Ice Cube), a former member of his special ops unit who's been locked up in a military prison for nine years after breaking the jaw of none other than General Deckert. Stone hates Gibbons for leaving him languishing in jail - and not unreasonably since Gibbons could have recruited him years ago instead of selecting an extreme sports nutter. Nevertheless, Stone agrees to help his former boss in return for getting busted out of jail.

As a secret agent, Stone is not quite in James Bond's league. How does he find out what the secretary of defence is up to? He sneaks into a posh cocktail party dressed as a waiter and stands within earshot of the secretary, holding up a tray of drinks so he won't be recognised. Right at that moment, Deckert helpfully outlines his treasonous plot to a lackey in the middle of the crowded party, loudly enough that Stone can overhear it along with everyone else in the vicinity. Dr Evil has more sense than this.

I could go on and on listing the film's inanities. I haven't even mentioned the secret underground bullet train the president uses as an escape route. How you could secretly build an underground railway beneath the Capitol Building, I have no idea. But let's just accept that xXx: The Next Level doesn't make a lot of sense. As a silly action film, it doesn't have to. Constantine is even dafter but that's daft in a fun way. xXx: The Next Level is stupid and it's dull with it.

The actors offer little entertainment value. Ice Cube appears to have been cast because he's the only actor in Hollywood surlier than Vin Diesel. The rapper turned actor / writer / producer is not untalented and he's been effective before, notably in Boyz N The Hood, but as an action hero he's not much fun to watch. Similarly, Willem Dafoe makes a bland and ineffectual villain, just as he did in Speed 2 and Spider-Man. I don't know why he keeps getting cast as evil megalomaniacs - he isn't cut out to play them. Samuel L Jackson meanwhile contributes another phoned-in performance and collects his paycheque. A few more films like this and his icon-of-cool status may go the same way as Robert De Niro's.

Finally and unforgivably, the action scenes are derivative, badly conceived and put together with the kind of fast-cutting overkill you expect from McG or Paul WS Anderson. Such brain-dead filmmaking is disappointing coming from Lee Tamahori, who won a lot of acclaim 10 years ago for Once Were Warriors and followed that with a string of decent action movies, including The Edge, Mulholland Falls and Die Another Day. You don't expect to see his name on crap like this.

You do however expect bad CGI effects in his films and, boy, do you get them here! If you thought the car falling off the dam in Along Came A Spider looked fake and James Bond surfing on the melting ice in Die Another Day looked ridiculous, wait till you see the bullet train sequence at the end of this film. It's like watching footage from a Playstation game. Come to think of it, the whole film is like footage from a Playstation game.

Overall

3

out of 10

Last updated: 19/04/2018 09:16:58

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