-

Jump to content



Photo
Blu-ray Reviews

HTF Blu-Ray Review: xXx: State Of The Union



This topic has been archived. This means that you cannot reply to this topic.
No replies to this topic

#1 of 1 OFFLINE   Neil Middlemiss

Neil Middlemiss

    Screenwriter

  • 2,700 posts
  • Join Date: Nov 15 2001
  • Real Name:Neil Middlemiss

Posted August 11 2008 - 09:57 AM

ronsreviews_covers_COL026379.jpg
 

xXx: State Of The Union





Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Year: 2008
US Rating: Rated PG-13 for Sequences of Intense Action, Violence and Some Language
Film Length: 101 Mins
Aspect Ratio: 2:40.1
Audio: English and French Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Subtitles: Optional English, English SDH and French
 



US Release Date: August 12th, 2008

The Film - htf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_half.gif out of htf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gif

“Don't do it for the red, white and blue! Do it for yourself! Do it for the right to hack and jack outside the White House!”


The xXx concept was introduced in 2002, with the rather dull directorial hand of Rob Cohen behind the camera and Vin Diesel in the lead role. The core idea was that a secret NSA government organization, in search of a new breed of special agent, chooses to pursue an extreme sports junkie by the name of Xander Cage to take down a Russian crime syndicate. Vin Diesel was well cast, but the film that employed him was an overcooked James Bond derivative that supplanted suave, exciting and well orchestrated action veins with cringe inducing attitude and high-octane mess. The result was moronic, so needless to say, a sequel was not only unnecessary but unwelcome.

However, the tradition of squeezing as much money out of an idea as possible has become a celebrated tradition and a Part 2 was green-lit. The sequel needed a place to go and for the action to be upped a notch. But how do you up ‘overkill’? That presents a dreadful prospect for improving upon an already suspect original.

xXx: State Of The Union starts as it means to go on, with pyrotechnic flashes, guns blazing and questionable gadgetry, the likes of which even the James Bond franchise realized was a step beyond acceptable for a serious action film. The plot is familiar enough; an evil man who betrayed good soldiers some time ago is now in a position of considerable power in the government and is exacting what appears to be revenge upon the unit that he betrayed. Samuel L. Jackson reprises his Agent Gibbons role, barely escaping with his life in the opening few minutes during which the ridiculously hi-tech underground NSA facility he is stationed at is assaulted. Recognizing that those he can trust is less than the fingers on his right hand (and the fact that Vin Diesel’s Xander character has apparently been killed in Tora Bora) he must sign-up an old unit soldier, the highly trained and very much incarcerated Darius Stone (Ice Cube). With a new xXx on the payroll, the bad guys have a fly in their ointment and their grand, evil plans less of chance of going off without a hitch.

The plot is preposterous, but I think it is supposed to be. There is no more globetrotting as seen in the first film; this one is USA all the way. Ice Cube does well in the action hero role, coming across as a brawny, brawling hero compared to his leaner and more muscular predecessor. The script doesn’t give him much to chew on besides a few short, angry lines. But he conjures the much needed support from us the viewer, checking into action sequences without much assistance from the plot but having fun while he is there. Willem Defoe is the nemesis (isn’t he always), coming across somewhere between his bad guy from Spider-man and his madman from Speed 2: Cruise Control. Scott Speedman, who did quite well in the Underworld films and a recent indie shown on HD-NET, is challenged here by an excess of daft lines. When all is said and done he doesn’t seem to add much to the film.

While the acting is generally okay, the other factors in the critical three elements for a film, screenplay and direction, fail outright. First we have the screenplay by Simon Kinberg. If we can accept that the overall storyline is resigned to action movie rehashing, then all it needs to do is rehash it well. It doesn’t. It mostly meanders lazily from scene to scene, dropping incredulous lines such as “Give up while you still can” and other stock utterances that you find in tired 80’s action mush. It also dallies in more than its fair share of awkward humor, some of which comes from its indulgence in stereotyping.

The last nail in the coffin of ‘quality’ is unsurprisingly the fault of director Lee Tamahori. Like xXx’s director before him, Rob Cohen, Tamahori is disappointingly uninspired. The same flimsy flash that hurt Die Another Day is in full swing here. However, unlike the last Peirce Brosnan Bond movie, Tamahori doesn’t have the weight and wonder of the Bond franchise, characters and innate power to prop up his poor choices. That may seem harsh, but consider the tank sequences in this film. There is much that could have been done to bounce elaborate and clever angles, cuts and camera motion into this set-piece. But all we are presented is a formulaic cut from our hero in the tank, to the exterior of the tank so we see what he’s just done, to the vehicle about to be destroyed, then back to the hero tank again. The camera is mostly static. It fails to move into or around the action at hand. Directing and editing by the numbers. There are a few shots that show promise until you realize that they are simply repackaged Michael Bay moves from Bad Boys and The Rock.

This is a film that relies on hi-tech hardware and software to hold our attention. The likeable (and somewhat unique) hero in Ice Cube’s Darius aside, xXx: State of the Union doesn’t offer enough to completely win us over.








The Video - htf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gif out of htf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gif

xXx: State of the Union is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1 in 1080p High Definition. It is a nice improvement over the standard DVD version which itself was pretty good. There are plenty of fine details easily noticeable, pores in skin, sharp and unblurred elements such as hair and textures on clothing.

Flesh tones are faithfully reproduced and look natural. The image is very clean, very sharp; almost too sharp at times. Sony has been quite commendable in its Blu-ray releases and how it represents the original film in the High Definition format and, for the most part, this version of xXx: State of the Union continues that trend. There are occasional shots where it looks a little like the natural film grain has been very mildly affected, more than I personally would have preferred, but by all accounts, this is a great presentation of this film. Also, don’t let the very first shot scare you – it gets much better.





The Sound - htf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gif out of htf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gif

Sony presents xXx: State of the Union with a rather good English (and French) Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track. You will find plenty of surround, directional effects to bolster the action and help immerse you in the pyrotechnics and frequent machine gun action. The solid bass comes in nicely, especially for the active rock and hip-hop laden soundtrack. This is a crisp audio track and won’t disappoint your speakers or you.



 

The Extra's - htf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gif out of htf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gif

Each of the extras from the 2005 special edition DVD release are available on this Blu-Ray release.

Filmmaker Commentary - Commentary provided by writer Simon Kinberg and director Lee Tamahori. What is immediately noticeable besides the expected discussion of scene specific details is an underlying lack of enthusiasm for certain eventualities in the final product. Also, some of the ideas they share as inspirations or intents for certain tonal or elemental aspects may very well have been in their minds when making this film, but they do not come through on screen. The most revealing moment in this commentary was in how the Department of Defense would not support the production, as they do some other films with military elements, since the story does not shed the Defense Secretary in a good light.

Also, it is a shame that these two did not record the commentary at the same time.

Deleted Scenes – Available with optional filmmaker commentary, you get 3 snippets of scenes that were appropriately left on the cutting room floor.

Visual Effects Commentary – Scott Farrar, Visual Effects Supervisor and Lindy DeQuattro, CG Supervisor talk about the trade and spend quite a bit of time pointing out which shots are composite versus model, which are day shots made to look like night etc. This is an interesting commentary that becomes a little repetitive and isn’t earth shattering, but any time you have talented artists discussing their work, you cannot help but be impresses.

Documentary “From Convict to Here: The Making of xXx: State of the Union” - (48:46) – Split in two chapters (Boot Camp and Special Ops), this is quite a good look at how the filmmakers arrived at the final product, moving from a sequel with Vin Diesel coming back to Ice Cube taking on the lead role. Boot Camp looks broadly at the making of the film, from the actors and shooting etc, while the Special Ops spends a little more time on the technical aspects of the military pieces.

Top Secret Military Warehouse - (8:33) – A featurette that covers the military gadgets, from the Kevlar costumes to the hyper-real weaponry and spy tools.

xXx: According to Ice Cube - (5:24) – A featurette focusing on Ice Cube in the role. Fellow actors discuss his presence and persona. Ice Cube is a remarkable talent, as a writer, rapper, producer and actor. His acting skills, while not classic or of range, certainly satisfy a role like xXx (although I preferred him in Friday and the remarkable Boyz in the Hood

Bullet Train Meltdown - (5:40) – A more detailed look at the climactic sequence, including the pre-visualization sequence. This feature lets you see the storyboard, pre-visualization and green screen versions at the same time, allowing you to enlarge the version of your choice as it plays out.






 

Final Thoughts

I can’t say that I wasn’t kind of entertained for the 101 minute running time. I mean, explosions, gadgets and ludicrous action set-pieces can always help you pass the time, but when you consider that I can be just as happy watching bad Sci-Fi channel movie pulp, being merely ‘kind of’ entertained isn’t really saying much. Beyond the gaping wholes and convenient plot contrivances; emotional shallowness; tired stereotypes; caricature President and Nona Gaye popping out of her outfits (well, that wasn’t really bad), xXx: State of the Union is less pretentious than the first film and is some fun, but I believe it is more cartoonish, and therefore less ridiculous, by accident.

If you enjoy carnage and chaos with a willful employment of cheese and a lack of directorial imagination, then this xXx marks the spot.


 

Overall Score - htf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gif out of htf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gif




Neil Middlemiss
Kernersville, NC


"Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure Science" – Edwin Hubble
My DVD Collection