xXx 2: The Next Level review

In 2002, xXx promised us A New Breed Of Hero; what it delivered was a serviceable blast of sub-Bondery whose next-gen tattooed 'tude couldn't hide the guns/gadgets/girls template it stuck to like velcro. With original helmer Rob Cohen stepping back as exec producer and Vin Diesel bailing altogether, xXx 2 is at least more accurately tagged. We've reached The Next Level all right: the one below...

What really frustrates is that this shonky spy sequel may be daft, but it's not entirely stupid. In place of the first film's Euro-scum threat, we've got a Homeland Security-crazed Washington hawk named George. Which, for a Friday-night popcorn flick, is sorta subversive. Trouble is, George is Willem Dafoe on rent-a-loonball auto-pilot, his vanilla villainy sanding down the political edge. The script's unchecked use of the word "bitch" is more likely to cause a stir.

As for our main man, it's hard to recall when Ice Cube has seemed less cool. Sure, it's fun to see him engage Sam Jackson (who sails through with cred unscathed) in a scowling contest, but then the film blandly buddies him up with FBI-er Scott Speedman and gadgets geek Michael Roof. And with the extreme-sports hook out the window - our boy likes his grub too much - Darius Stone's a distinctly old breed of hero, all heavy firepower and painful pay-offs ("Lighten up!"). While Die Another Day director Lee Tamahori marshals the mayhem with hollow efficiency, everything here - including the CGI-blighted bullet-train climax - is buried by the original's avalanche-chase jaw-floorer.

Still, if xXx 2 flops on the action front, at least it provides laughs. Of the unintentional variety, that is: there's the Lalo Schifrin-lite score, "the first tank-jacking in history" and, most gut-worrying of all, the toe-curling banter between Ice and old-flame car dealer Nona Gaye ("You 'member all the damage we did in the backseat?"). And that's a nasty case of Roger Moore eyebrow you have there, Mr Cube. But hey, why should we waste our time carping when the film sums itself up in one devastatingly apt image: a lorry-load of cheese.

A Diesel-free sequel that barely gets the engine started. Entertains now and then, but the heavily flagged prospect of xXx 3 isn't one to relish.

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