Ice Cube replaces Vin Diesel in the "self-consciously hip" action sequel xXx 2: The Next Level. Most critics panned the outlandish approach of director Lee Tamahori in telling this story of an ex-con who's called upon to save the world, but others happily went along for the ride. In any case, Diesel has good reason to feel smug as this fell $50m short of recouping its budget at the box office...
An hour-long documentary is split into two parts with the first focussing on the conception of the plot. According to screenwriter Simon Kinberg, Tamahori "wanted it to feel more about paranoia rather than about blowing up a lot of buildings". In the end, blowing up buildings is unavoidable, but Tamahori insists that this is more a thriller than an action film. Ice Cube bought into this vision wholeheartedly and reflects on Tamahori's bloody-mindedness as a director. "I describe Lee as an elephant hunter," he says, "All he cares about is getting the elephant." Of course you could say the same for the director of Operation Dumbo Drop...
The second part of the documentary focuses on efforts to create a futuristic vision of the military. This was achieved with the co-operation of the US government who allowed the filmmakers to take a sneak peek at their development labs in the backrooms of The Pentagon and the FBI Academy at Quantico. There's more on that in the Top Secret Military Warehouse featurette where technical advisors ensure us that gizmos like "The Flyboy" (an airborne camera kitted out with weaponry) will soon become a reality.
Another behind-the-scenes featurette compares storyboards, test footage, and CG layers used in the Bullet Train sequence. Meanwhile, in According to Ice Cube, cast and crew line up to sing the praises of their new action hero with repeated utterances of, "He's got attitude..."
Three deleted scenes add nothing to the final film. In an optional commentary, Tamahori explains that they were cut for precisely this reason, or else they were "too violent" and even "too complex". On the contrary, it's difficult to see where the nuances are in someone getting his head blown off.
Despite the alleged complexities, Tamahori doesn't have much of interest to say in the main commentary. Instead, Kinberg goes into depth about the process of reinventing the franchise after Vin Diesel's departure. He talks about devising a new "skill set" for Darius (Ice Cube) based on his military and criminal background and creating a backstory between him and Gibbons (Samuel L Jackson). "I felt like in the first movie Gibbons was too in control," he says, "This time I wanted Gibbons to be the person who's most vulnerable." An alternative commentary by the visual effects team offers a more technical standpoint, breaking down the hi-tech action and CGI components.
Overall, this package of extras offers a comprehensive look at the making of film but it's also heavy on waffle. In particular, the filmmakers bang on about Ice Cube as the next great action hero and talk about wanting to recreate the paranoid ambience of the great 70s thrillers. It's all a bit highfalutin otherwise action fans should find this DVD is totally on their level.