Category Archives: Films – 1.5 stars

xXx2 – The Next Level

I knew this was going to be rubbish when I sat down to watch it. So why did I watch it? I often wonder what I get out of crappy action films. I think it’s that no matter how bad the script, or how poorly acted or directed, they usually have some unique and inventive way of putting lives in danger. That’s the hook an action flick uses to pull you in. Once you’re there, it has to pay off its promise with chase scenes, fight scenes, stunt work, and explosions. None of which are particularly easy to do–even to do badly. See? There’s a craft there that I can appreciate, even while I’m despairing over the hammy dialogue.

xXx2 lacks that initial hook. For the original film, the premiss was that Xander Cage (Vin Diesel, and you can slag him all you like, but I dig the Vinster) was an extreme sports fanatic with an attitude problem, who gets recruited by a secretive US government department to go on an undercover mission in Eastern Europe. You knew that this would lead to brash James Bond-style stunts and escapades with an extreme sports twist: snowboarding, bungee-jumping, and all that. It was the Extremeness that gave the film its very name, and which tantalized you with its novelty. I enjoyed it.

Vin Diesel dropped out of the (inevitable) sequel, and was replaced by Ice Cube, another man who takes a lot of heat for the quality of his acting, but whom I like. In the story, Xander Cage has been killed, and Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) has to come up with a new xXx (the code name for extreme deep undercover agents). The new agent has to be tougher, more extreme, more “off the grid”. And they come up with…Darius Stone (Ice Cube), a former US Navy SEAL who served with Gibbons, but who is now languishing in military prison for insubordination and breaking a General’s jaw. He has bags of attitude, and the combat skills to back it up. But Extremeness? Not so much. He’s just another cookie-cutter action hero.

The replacement hook for the film takes the form of a plot by the US Secretary of Defence (Willem Dafoe) to stage a coup during the President’s State of the Union address. Taken on its own, that is a perfectly acceptable concept. But to do it justice, you’d need the characters to be close to the President, and for most of the action to take place in and around that setting. Most of xXx2, however, is taken up by Stone and Gibbons trying first to figure out what the conspiracy is, and then how to get close enough to the coup to throw a spanner in the works. It takes far too long for the hook to kick in, and by the time it does, its impact has been squandered by a dreadful succession of movie stereotypes of government agents (Scott Speedman), politicians (Peter Strauss), and gangsta homies (Xzibit).

In short, it falls flat. Waaaay flat. By delaying the hook, it even failed to live up to my low standards of what constitutes a decent action flick. There are a few nice fight scenes, and one good set piece where Darius uses an aircraft carrier’s launch catapult for target practice, but it didn’t deserve to be released under the xXx brand. DTV is would have been more appropriate.

(Oh: and as a last note, if you’re going to spend two minutes on a scene where the resident geek introduces a cool gadget like a powerful electromagnetic suction glove then I EXPECT TO SEE THE HERO ACTUALLY USING IT TO GET HIMSELF OUT OF A TIGHT SPOT BEFORE THE CREDITS ROLL. Come on, people. Get with the program.)


Rob Cohen can direct vehicle action, but very little else. The scenes with people in them are dreadful, and the cliché count is so far off the scale, you could make a drinking game out of it. The morality–or lack of it–behind the script is simply scary. And the treatmen of artificial intelligence in the movies clearly hasn’t moved on since HAL. (Okay, perhaps a little Knight Rider has crept in around the edges, but still….)

On the positive side, Josh Lucas may be a man, but I totally would. Ditto Jessica Biel. They need to give their agents a good kicking for getting them into this mess, though.

Bad Boys II

Gratuitious succession of gun fights and car chases, strung together by a weak-ass script, and directed with an utter lack of visual flair. The action is big, dumb, and careless. The verbal sparring between Martin Lawrence and Will Smith was funny in the first Bad Boys outing, partly because of the switched identity sub-plot, but also because it was better written. Here, the interplay relies on an anger management character angle, and it breaks down into “Oh yeah?” “Oh yeah?” shouting matches right from the start. The villain is stupid, and the main plot lines don’t come together for an hour and a half; which is exactly the length this film should have been if the production team hadn’t taken their eyes off the ball.

The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Dreadful script, and the acting is hammier than a butcher’s shop. The amount of editing that has been done to make Connery’s two major fight scenes seem at all realistic is enormous, and deserves special recognition. The number of shots where you see him both throw and land a punch can be counted on one hand. The rest of the time it’s all lunge, sound effect, and cut to a different angle. I’ve tried hard to think of any redeeming features the film might have…and failed.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

This would have been almost enjoyable tosh, if it hadn’t been for the incompetent ending. I’m quite willing to watch an hour and a half of plot-, tension-, and character-free eye candy, but for goodness’ sake, if you’re going to set the climax in a massive underground orrery where time itself is fragmenting into glowing bubbles of cool special effects, at least have the decency to kill the bad guy in a blaze of high-budget CGI-rendered glory. You can’t just kick him in the nuts and leave him for dead as an earthquake shakes the place apart. That’s just not right.

Spy Kids 3D

Juni Cortez (one of the Spy Kids) has left the Agency vowing never to return. But when his sister Carmen is trapped inside a hyper-immersive virtual reality videogame, he just can’t refuse the mission to rescue her. Most of the film takes place inside the game, and that’s where all the 3-D gimmickry comes in. However, the effects aren’t good enough to distract attention from the cliché-ridden plot and severely lacklustre acting (even by the standard of kids’ films). Many kids will never have seen a 3D movie before, so they may well like it for its novelty value. But remove that, and you’re left with nothing but junk. Even the vast numbers of cameo appearances become tedious and annoying by the end. (One bright light, though: George Clooney doing a Sylvester Stallone impression. That was funny.)