xXx 2: THE NEXT LEVEL
Agent Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) and his new agent Darius Stone (Ice Cube) must track a dangerous military splinter group, led by ex General and now Secretary of Defence, George Deckert (Willem Dafoe), that is conspiring to overthrow the U.S. Government with a violent coup in Washington. Stone looks to his old pals Lola (Nona Gaye), a former flame who now deals in fast cars and Zeke (Xzibit), a renegade chop-shop operator with weaponry and personnel.
Review by Louise Keller:
Ice Cube’s name may appear above the credits, but it’s the stunts and special effects that are the star of the second xXx movie. It’s easy to see where the money for this big action film has been spent; the dollars are literally strewn all over the screen in an assortment of explosions and xXx size stunts involving cars, trains, boats and planes. But action action action has replaced good storytelling and compelling characters. It feels as though Lee Tamahori (Once Were Warriors, Die Another Day) was trying so hard to make up for the fact that Vin Diesel didn’t sign on for the sequel, that everything has been overdone. The music pounds; the script is trite and his direction is heavy handed. And while Ice Cube has all the attributes of a rebellious agent with attitude, he just doesn’t bring that bite and edge Diesel brought to the project. Dare I say it …. Ice Cube seems too nice. Despite his curled lip, body language and bulging muscles.
In fact there’s nothing subtle about the new xXx agent Darius Stone (Ice Cube) who is recruited from jail by Samuel L. Jackson’s National Security Agent Gibbons to get to the bottom of the latest attack on the US secret headquarters. We are promised he will have ‘more attitude’ this time, and it’s not from lack of trying on Ice Cube’s part; he does everything that is required of him, but somehow he lacks that intangible ‘danger-on-screen’ of his predecessor. The film starts with two fast-paced showy sequences including a daring kick-ass escape from jail in which Stone knocks out all the guards single-handed and hurls himself off the roof, clinging to a helicopter as it flies by. The first thing he wants after nine years in jail? Fries and a shake, of course.
The other characters suffer from superficiality-syndrome. Willem Dafoe’s evil, ambitious Head of Security is never allowed to be genuinely loathsome, while Peter Strauss’s US President overacts so badly that I almost wanted his assassination plot to succeed. Michael Roof’s gadget expert Toby is badly miscast; this is the kind of role Noah Taylor or Steve Zahn could do in their sleep, and Scott Speedman as an FBI agent, is simply thrown away. I quite liked Lola (Nona Gaye), who plays xXx’s love interest; she is the car-freak’s dreamgirl; she is an expert with a spanner, gets her kicks with speed (kilometres per hour, that is) and wears a uniform of false eyelashes and tall stilettos. And thank goodness for Jackson, who grounds the film and brings credibility to his character.
There are tanks crushing cars, a zooped up car skidding along the train tracks in pursuit of a fast train and non-stop gunfire and combat. Exhilarating or exhausting? Or simply boring? Perhaps the young male target audience won’t care that there is little beyond the flashy stunts, but at the end of the film when Jackson’s Gibbons sets up the expectations for the super-requirements of the next xXx agent (in another sequel, we assume), I really didn’t care.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Improbable or audacious? Whatever you think of the plot – and with the US as conflicted as it is in its relations with the rest of the world, it may be less audacious than it appears – it gives the filmmakers all the high profile elements needed for a major action film in the ‘special agent’ sub-genre. While the action is entertaining and often xxxtreme, there is not quite enough time left for the filling out of character that would help us feel the sense of dread the scenario calls for.
This applies to all the main players, including Willem Dafoe’s villain and the hapless US President. Ice Cube delivers the package he’s hired for, but all the characters are more like chess pieces in a master plan than three dimensional human beings.
For action fans there is an almost endless series of sequences to keep the tension high, and the only flaw in the sense of ultra-dynamic reality is the President’s Bullet Train, which is a great concept but the CGI is not as invisible as it could be.
For the politically aware cynic, there is the throw-away line from Ice Cube’s Agent xXx, Darius Stone; “The future of the world is in the hands of a bunch of hustlers and thieves,” referring to the rag team he has assembled to save the US and the world. To which young secret agent operative Kyle Steele (Scott Speedman) mutters: “Why should this night be any different…”
On its own terms and for its target market xXx2 delivers what is expected, although the gadget-gizmo-armour-hardware-hot-vehicle driven franchise seems unable to refresh itself enough any other way than by enlarging the items in question. Whether this is enough to jump the film into a broader, or at least older audience, is also in question; especially with that much rap on the soundtrack, however appropriate.
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xXx 2: THE NEXT LEVEL (MA)
CAST: Ice Cube, Willem Dafoe, Samuel L. Jackson, Xzibit,
PRODUCER: Gillian Libert, Neal H. Moritz, Arne Schmidt
DIRECTOR: Lee Tamahori
SCRIPT: Simon Kinberg characters by Rich Wilkes)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: David Tattersall
EDITOR: Mark Goldblatt, Todd E. Miller, Steven Rosenblum
MUSIC: Marco Beltrami
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Gavin Bocquet
RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sony Pictures Releasing
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 28, 2005