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XXX: State of the Union

It's even louder and dumber than the first XXX (2002), but if watching things fall down and go boom in a very big way makes you cheer, you're in luck. When a team of heavily armed stealth soldiers blast their way into a highly fortified underground NSA bunker and slaughter 16 agents, NSA honcho Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson, reprising his role from XXX) sees the need for a new xXx agent, someone even meaner and more dangerous than Vin Diesel's Xander Cage, who was killed in Bora Bora. And Gibbons knows just the guy for the job: special-ops sniper Darius Stone (Ice Cube), with whom Gibbons once fought as a Navy SEAL in Kosovo, under the command of George Deckert (Willem Dafoe). Unfortunately, Stone is currently unavailable: He was court-martialed after first refusing a direct order from Deckert, then breaking Deckert's jaw. Deckert is now secretary of defense under U.S. President Sanford (Peter Strauss), and Stone is serving a 20-year sentence in a maximum security prison. If Gibbons wants him, he'll have to bust him out. Stone's daring escape is just the first of a series of action set pieces that pull Stone ever closer to a treasonous plot hatched by none other than Secretary Deckert himself. Miffed by the president's plans to foster a more compassionate, multilateral foreign policy, Deckert plans to storm the capitol with his own secretly trained splinter army during the president's State of the Union address. Luckily, Stone still has his boys in the D.C. hood where he grew up, including chop-shop chief Zeke (Xzibit) and Stone's former flame, custom-car commando Lola (Nona Gaye), plus a sympathetic agent within the NSA (Scott Speedman). Where XXX director Rob Cohen grabbed for the joysticks of videogamers addicted to episodic, nonstop action, Lee Tamahori sets his sights on hip-hop fans who will thrill to the sight of Stone's band of brothers descending on the White House in pimped-out 4x4s to make the world safe for carjacking and oh, yeah, democracy. It's a pretty funny scenario, as is the notion that the very Rumsfeldesque Deckert is actually plotting a military coup, but the wit is all in passing. Tamahori devotes all his resources to action so digitized that the climax looks like a cartoon. Ice Cube, a good comic straight man, makes for a less-than-believable action hero. Scenes in which his distinctly nonathletic frame is seen leaping across prison rooftops and plunging into the Potomac inadvertently recall Shelly Winters in THE POSEIDON ADENTURE, and screenwriter Simon Kinberg's endless string of hokey zingers wear away at the star's natural cool.