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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

XXX: State of the Union (review)

Pimp My Action Movie

So I overhear this gang of guys and girls chattering away excitedly after the semi-public screening of XXX: State of the Union, and they can’t shut up about what a great movie this is, how it’s “the best action movie since Die Hard,” one of them says. Why? “There’s not a lot of talking.”

I love that. I’m gonna use it all the time as a gauge to rate every idiotic action movie that gets thrown at us. I can see it now. The scale will go, from top to bottom:
= Way Too Much Damn Talking (“holy crap this is like My Dinner with Andre“)
= A Lot Of Talking (“why doesn’t everyone just shut the hell up and start shooting?”)
= An Okay Amount Of Talking (“I coulda done without some of the talking but at least they killed that guy who talked too much by the end”)
= Not A Lot Of Talking (“oh man stuff blows up real good like constantly dude!”)

Now, I disagree that there’s “not a lot of talking” in Die Hard — the clever dialogue is a big part of its appeal — but it is certainly true that there is Not A Lot Of Talking in XXX: State of the Union (there’s probably even less talking than the original film), because it would only interfere with the unbelievable number of vehicle explosions: tons of cars including at least one police car, multiple boats, at least one and possibly two tanks, and a bullet train (not a comprehensive list). I guess tunnels blown through the earth to access a secret underground government facility don’t count as vehicles — they’re more structures to allow one to move from place to place — and certainly edifices like suburban Washington minimansions and secret underground government facilities and the dome of the U.S. Senate don’t count as vehicles even when they do explode. But my point is this: If bicycles and skateboards could be made to blow up, this is the movie in which it would happen. The only reason a space shuttle isn’t blowing up here is because that would be considered unpatriotic, and the only other thing deployed to hilariously absurd excess here is patriotism.

Think Parker and Stone’s “America, Fuck Yeah!” turned into a movie, and this is it. The politics of the film are so ridiculously convoluted and contradictory that it can’t really be said to be expressing any kind of political viewpoint, but that’s precisely the point what I suspect is a deliberate parody of American excess and idiotic action movies is making: “America rocks, dude! And no, I don’t know why. It just does, okay?” It’s an orgy of impossible gadgets and over-the-top violence, and the American flag gets superimposed over Ice Cube’s face in the opening credits — oh, and Ice Cube is saving the president, nay, the nation, from a military coup. What more could any redblooded American need from a movie?

As a parody, it doesn’t entire succeed — director Lee Tamahori (Die Another Day) can’t decided whether he’s making fun of movies that pander to the audience or whether he’s just pandering himself — but some stuff is simply so hilariously awful, whether it’s deliberate or not, that it tickles… like XXX agent Darius Stone’s (Ice Cube: Are We There Yet?, Barbershop 2: Back in Business) “relationship” with the world’s hottest former chop-shop owner gone legit, Lola (Nona M. Gaye: The Polar Express, The Matrix Revolutions), a relationship in which the greatest substance comes from their funky romantic musical themes, which get flipped on and off like a light switch when Tamahori wants to indicate a shift in the film’s tone. It fails, but the attempt is outrageously funny.

I also like how Peter Strauss plays the president of the United States in such a way that all you can think about is how Phil Hartman would have imitated him on Saturday Night Live.

But the best bit of all is the finale, in which Ice Cube and his army of inner-city felons come to the rescue of the American way of life and government — i.e., crime and corruption — by driving like madmen and shooting stuff up and rolling tanks over innocent parked cars in downtown D.C. and generally behaving exactly like you expect the “heroes” in today’s self-parodying action movies to behave. And it’s all intercut with the president’s State of the Union address in which he talks about such wimpy things as compassion and understanding and how “we must endeavor to win the hearts and minds of our enemies and turn them into our allies.” It’s almost like the movie is saying that laughingstock girly-man attitudes like that never solve anything or get anything blown up real good. But no redblooded American action movie would ever espouse anything like that, would it?


MPAA: rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action violance and some language

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

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