xXx:State Of The Union

xXx:State Of The Union (2008)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Ice Cube, Samuel L. Jackson, Willem Dafoe, Peter Strauss
Extras: Commentary Tracks, Documentary, Featurettes, Deleted Scenes

Lee Tamahori is the director of a respectful handful of films including "The Edge" from 1997 and the James Bond film "Die Another Day" from 2002. "xXx: State Of The Union" is, of course, the 2005 sequel to the Vin Diesel film and it has arrived on Blu-ray with all of its impossible stunts and audacious explosions bursting onto the screen with more clarity and detail than the previous standard release.

You could almost call "xXx: State Of the Union" the most expensive exploitation films ever made because of its expensive production values, it stars Ice Cube as Darius Stone, a former Navy Seal who is currently under lockdown for insubordination. Agent Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) escapes being killed after an organization penetrates a National Security Agency underground facility in Virginia, killing 16 members of the team, many of them friends of Stones, and after Gibbons pays a visit to the prison, an over the top and ridiculous escape ensues and Darius is free again to help Gibbons, and basically do all the dirty work, since his XXX status makes him one of the most trained and lethal people on the planet, capable of superhuman feats and some of the most impossibly over the top action moves you will ever see.

In fact the action scenes, though well done, enter a level of the absurd that is almost impossible to believe, and these action scenes many times rise beyond comic book level silliness and into outright hilarious implausibility, starting with the helicopter rescue from the prison. After Darius wrangles up a posse of street thugs and arms them with the latest weapons and pimped out cars we realize the film was probably dreamed up by an inner city teenager. The plot is of course nothing more than an excuse to stage death defying and explosive action scenes, and that is acceptable for these types of films, but it does fail on many levels, because not for a second do we sense any real danger to Darius.

The Secretary Of Defense (Willem Dafoe) has somehow arranged a coup, to take over the United States of America (and kidnap the president) by force, and during the State of the Union address, no doubt. These days you would almost wish that something like this could take place (minus the violence of course), or perhaps an action scenario where Congress is replaced with members who actually have the good of the country in mind. These are the thoughts that crossed my mind as I watched this inane and pointless film.

DeFoe's character also happens to be Darius Stone's arch nemisis and the reason for his incarceration and Stone will seemingly stop at nothiong to prove to the world that he is no bitch.

The President (Peter Strauss) is rushed into an underground bullet train for a chase scene to end all chase scenes towards the climax, and by that time I am numb to whatever effect the film is trying to have on me, and exhausted. The film portrays a nation being led by a bunch of stupid white men, which adds a sense of realism, but in the end this film is just another stupid action film, even if it has some expensive production values and Ice Cube does an entertaining turn as a black comic book hero.

In the end this film left me feeling empty and tired, definitely not my type of film, and keep in mind I never saw the first one. But for those of you looking for a mindless popcorn flick with some over the top action scenes and fans of hip hop culture, have at it. Also, annoyingly, this is the type of film where all of the white guys are clueless and fumbling and stereotypical, which gets old.

Fans of the film will actually be impressed with the audio and video of this Blu-ray version, because it has a very crisp picture. The sleek style of directing shines on this new version, the colorful cars and technological weapons come through with an added dimension, and it even retains a slight hint of film grain, which adds to the illusion that we are watching an actual film and not a disc in our living room. With an aspect ratio of 2.40:1, the film shines on Blu-ray. The action scenes especially deliver and this Blu-ray will certainly not disappoint those of you looking foe good image quality.

Featuring an impressive English Dolby TrueHD track, the audio is boisterous and the surround action kicks in with a vengeance, this is one loud film. You may want to stay close to the remote though because it goes from semi quiet to very loud quickly, which can be nerve shattering, especially to the neighbors with this foundation shaking soundtrack.

The special features are surprisingly packed, as it includes two commentaries, the first featuring the director Lee Tamahori and writer Simon Kinberg which is listenable and well paced, although it appears the two weren't actually recorded at the same time. We also have a visual effects commentary featuring Scott Farrar and Lindy DeQuattro, who go on about the technical aspects of the effects and CG involved in this effects heavy film.

'From Convict To Here' is a making of documentary split into two parts and clocking in at about 49 minutes. This is a very well rounded documentary and takes us on a journey from the beginning all the way through to the final product. This is one of those documentaries that makes you wish you worked in the industry.

'xXx: According To Ice Cube' is a featurette that makes us realize what a wide variety of different forms Ice Cube's career has taken on over the years, and how much he has (in some views) sold out.

'Top Secret Military Warehouse' and 'Bullet Train Meltdown' are two featurettes, the first explores the gadgets and the second deconstructs the climactic train sequence that used so much CGI.

'Deleted Scenes' contains three deleted scenes that were wisely cut from the final film.

So, for those of you who actually like this film (which I obviously consider a complete waste of time) you can't go wrong with this Blu-ray version, it contains a ton of special features and very good sound and audio. For others, your money is best spent on another Blu-ray title, the odds you may find this a complete waste of time are quite likely.