When the President of the USA is threatened by a military coup, spymaster Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L Jackson) needs a new hero to fill the shoes of secret agent XXX. Enter Darius Stone (Ice Cube), a former Special Forces bad-ass serving time for attacking his commanding officer George Deckert (a bug-eyed Willem Dafoe). It would be easy - and accurate - to dismiss XXX2: The Next Level as exploitative shooty-bang-bang nonsense, but viewed on its own trashy terms, it succeeds brilliantly.
A laser-guided missile aimed directly at the hearts of boys young and old, XXX2 delivers a payload of explosions, fast cars, jiggling breasts and military hardware with breathtaking single-mindedness. The original XXX concept - James Bond with extreme sports - has been ditched, along with the first film's star (gravel-gargling Vin Diesel) in favour of a self consciously hip, urban tone.
"ICE CUBE'S MASSIVE, MOVIE-LENGTH SULK"
Thus the new XXX is hired on the basis of his "attitude", rather than his paragliding skills. Ice Cube plays this tiny character note as a massive, movie-length sulk. He swings into action with staggering petulance, a huge sneer nailed to his chubby jowls as he assembles a private army of low-life carjackers to take on Deckertís splinter military force.
Confusingly, XXX2 presents us with a heroically liberal president while the camera drools over the gleaming hardware required to protect him. Women have a bad time too, portrayed as cold-hearted sexual predators. Still, it trots along at a good pace, and director Lee Tamahori stages the action with unusual clarity and panache.