xXx : The Next Level [Blu-Ray]

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By Clint Morris

If the first ”xXx” was a bubbly coke that’d been shaken, then the sequel is flat lemonade – unmoving, lacking in fizz and largely flavourless.

If any sequel deserved the direct-to-video treatment it was this one, but after the bank the first film made, it’s no surprise that the studio decided to roll the dice again and hope they came upon another money-spinning winner.

But with original star Vin Diesel opting out of proceedings; they’ve definitely got their work cut out for them.

Which makes it even more astonishing to discover that there it’s merely the same-old same-old, only less spectacular.

They may have changed the face, but he’s wearing the same old tattered clothes…

What was done with stunts, is now done with computers; the splotch of plot the first film encompassed has been excised by a transitory few lines to drive the film forward, and the blueprint, about as non-specific as home-brand table salt.

Thankfully, there’s the relatively-charismatic and cheeky Ice Cube hogging the lens, replacing Diesel, and spliced in between the boring bits, a couple of cool stunts. I stress – a couple. But was that enough to warrant a sequel?

If Willem Dafoe playing a villain in a sequel where the original star doesn’t return isn’t enough to tip you off (hello ”Speed 2”!), the straightforward synopsis is probably enough to convince you that this is as by-the-numbers as a kid’s activity page.

Here goes: the previous ”xXx” is dead (well, they’re not going to tell you that Vin Diesel wanted a bigger payday, are they?), and ex-jailbird Darius Stone (Cube) is in.

With the assistance of gadgets-mad Toby (Michael Roof), agent Kyle Steele (Scott Speedman, of “Felicity”), and old pal/recruiter agent Augustus Gibbons (an under-utilised Samuel L.Jackson), Stone’s on the case to catch fraudulent White House local George Deckert (Willem Dafoe, yawn…) before he can put into practice his plan for World War IV. Yep, four.

Cube’s okay as our hero, the stunts are passable (if not less impressive the bigger they get – the finale, featuring an out-of-control train looks awful – totally created an I-Mac by the looks) and there’s enough smart quips and slick transport to keep viewers amused, but all in all xXx 2 is proof that Bond’s newbie cousin only deserved the one jaunt.

Bring on the next 007 – at least they’re usually worth the green.

Blu-Ray Details and Extras

There’s nothing better on the disc that the smashing sound and awesome visuals, in fact everything on here has simply been ported over from the DVD release (commentaries, deleted scenes; etc).