Revolution Studios needn't have worried that Vin Diesel would not be doing the sequel to the 2002 hit "XXX," because Ice Cube proves up to the task in "XXX: State of the Union." Cube has always been a natural in front of a camera, and he's as much at ease as a daring action star as he has been of late in comedies. "State of the Union" opens explosively and never lets up, with Lee Tamahori ("Die Another Day") in full command of the action and Simon Kinberg an equally astute writer with a flair for linking socko action set pieces with terse characterization and a sure sense of topicality. The film's makers understand in the post-9/11 world that it can seem just about anything might be possible, taking full advantage of the likelihood that the faster the pace the less implausible a movie will seem.
Black-masked and body-suited troops invade the National Security Agency's top-secret headquarters hidden deep below a Charlottesville, Va., horse farm and take out 16 agents. Agency head Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) realizes he is in dire need of another XXX, who has been killed off between movies. Gibbons suspects the assailants were sent by a secret, radical faction within the government and clearly pose a threat to the president (Peter Strauss), a liberal who wants to end the government's isolationist policy and heavy defense spending in favor of strengthening diplomatic ties around the world.
The man for the job is a decorated special ops soldier, Darius Stone (Ice Cube), who happens to be in a military prison for striking a superior officer, which is not so much a problem as an opportunity for Gibbons to spring Darius, breaking several federal laws in the process. Alas, the extremely militarist secretary of Defense (Willem Dafoe) soon has Gibbons and his cohorts locked up themselves.
Darius is now left to his own devices to prevent the overthrow of the U.S. government, but even he will need help: Gibbons' gadget expert (Michael Roof); suave FBI agent Kyle Steele (Scott Speedman); his sultry former girlfriend Lola (Nona Gaye), proprietor of a high-end custom car business; and his pal Zeke (Xzibit), who runs a chop shop and just happens to have access to an amazing array of weaponry and personnel. "XXX2" is now geared up for an intricate, stunningly staged climax, a bold instance of the fantastic made jarringly realistic, which characterizes the entire film -- and what makes it exhilarating as entertainment.
'XXX: State of the Union'
MPAA rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence, some language
Times guidelines: Too intense for young children
A Columbia Pictures release. Director Lee Tamahori. Producers Neal H. Moritz, Arne L. Schmidt. Screenplay Simon Kinberg. Cinematographer David Tattersall. Editors Mark Goldblatt, Steven Rosenblum, Todd E. Miller. Music Marco Beltrami. Visual effects supervisor Scott Farrar. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes.
In general release.
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By the Numbers / Keeping cool with Ice Cube
From the time he made the big-screen scene in "Boyz N the Hood," Ice Cube has been a natural in front of the camera, whether carrying a movie or as part of an ensemble. This year, his movie career has reached a critical mass of sorts, as he scored his biggest box office hit yet with the comedy "Are We There Yet?" as a guy courting a single mom with two kids who go to extremes to keep the couple apart. Today, he debuts as the title character in Sony/Revolution's action franchise "XXX: State of the Union." Here are his top-grossing films to date.
Film (Year released) / Domestic gross (In millions)
"Are We There Yet? ('05) / $81.6
"Barbershop" ('02) / $75.8
"Anaconda" ('97) / $65.9
"Barbershop 2: Back in Business" ('04) / $65.1
"Three Kings" ('99) / $60.7
"Boyz N the Hood" ('91) / $57.5
"Next Friday" ('00) / $57.3
"Higher Learning" ('95) / $38.3
"Friday After Next" ('02) / $33.3
"Friday" ('95) / $27.5