xXx: The Next Level Review

Sometimes the critics get it wrong. A film gets universally bad reviews, only to be discovered retrospectively as a cult classic or, in a few cases, a major work of art. This is not one of those occasions.

XXX2: The Next Level revs its engine loudly in the opening minutes before emerging as something of a cinematic Reliant Robin, and even the presence of Xzibit can’t pimp this ride. Like that other three-wheeled sequel, “2 Fast, 2 Furious”, the movie forgets what people liked about the original and lacks the sense of bombastic fun that made it a hit. There’s very little of the “might is right” version of Bond that the first film did so well. XXX had a silly plot that suited its silly action and silly characters. TNL offers us a muddled plot that takes itself far too seriously and characters too silly to carry such a story.

For those of you who missed the original, XXX is a secret government operative working for an undercover security agency. Vin Diesel played the role in the original as Xander Cage, an extreme sports fanatic who was as comfortable leaping over exploding barns on motorbikes as he was sliding down mountains in front of avalanches. In this movie, Ice Cube takes over the role. His character, Darius Stone, is an ex-convict with a military background whose chief skills seem to be eating and scowling. He’s called in to help out after mystery assailants destroy the agency’s base, and discovers a plot that threatens the very government of America.

The main problem is that director Lee Tamahori doesn’t seem comfortable with the over-the-top extended action scenes from the original. The film frequently heads towards a spectacular chase sequence, only for it to be cut off in a ball of flame before it even starts. This is the way of the movie – A lack of build up followed by premature detonation. You get the sense, and this is certainly hinted at in the commentary, that the protracted action was originally supposed to be there, but got snipped for budget or ease of filming. Certainly, when the film emulates its predecessor in a high-speed climax, the pace picks up and you’re reminded of all that was good about the original. A tank battle on board a ship also raises events above straight-to-video level, but it’s too little, too late.

There’s so much that this movie does wrong. Compacting the off screen death of Xander Cage into two brief “Yeah, he’s dead now” lines is poor scriptwriting, and Ice Cube never manages to achieve Diesel’s charisma. Darius Stone is supposed to be tough and streetwise, but Cube never really cuts it as an action hero. The tongue-in-cheek humour of the first film has been expanded, but often feels as embarrassing as that in Babylon 5 – especially an early scene involving a cheeseburger. Rather than being an entertaining no-brainer, TNL is frequently a chore to watch. Where the original roared along the freeway on a customised Ducati, the sequel is left peddling behind on a rusty pushbike with stabilisers.

The Disc

Here’s where the good stuff is; the picture and sound are mainly excellent. The image is consistently sharp and detailed, although there are a several instances of blurring, but that may be down to the check-disk. The sound is superbly noisy, with a fantastic surround mix – easily the best thing on the disk. There’s also an enhanced soundtrack for the blind and copious subtitle options.

While the extras are fairly lengthy, not all of them are brilliant. The three deleted scenes are among the worst I have ever seen, and an array of trailers are displayed every time you play the disk. Three short featurettes provide a look at the gadgets of the film, a chat with, and about, Ice Cube, and a multi-angle look at the climactic train sequence.
The two commentary tracks and the Making Of (split into two parts) are where the scraps of meat lie. On the filmmaker’s commentary, we hear about the Department Of Defence’s involvement in films and how certain action scenes were changed. Shockingly, the film gets compared to classics such as All The President’s Men and The Parallax View, and the film is frequently described as much more than it is.

The Visual Effects commentary is mainly pointless – the two chatters reveal this is the first time they’ve actually seen the finished movie, and add very little to what’s said on the other extras. There are some interesting comments about how certain visuals were changed to achieve a lower rating, and also some special effects tricks regarding forced perspective. The Making Of is much more interesting, and talks about the death of Xander, as well as why the film moved so far away from the original.

Overall

A prime example of what happens when you tamper with a perfectly good formula. XXX2 will disappoint those wanting an action blast, but doesn’t provide story or characters deep enough to make the new direction worth travelling. These attempts to inject Ice into a Diesel powered vehicle may well have blown the engine of a potentially entertaining series of movies.

Film
4 out of 10
Video
8 out of 10
Audio
9 out of 10
Extras
5 out of 10
Overall

5

out of 10

Last updated: 10/05/2018 22:26:05

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