XXX2: The Next Level is what the world was crying out for: a Vin Diesel-less second film in the "extreme" - well, 12A-rated - Bond for dummies franchise. Samuel L. Jackson's maverick NSA chief tries to smooth the transition early on, by insisting the Agency needs someone with "more attitude" (Hollywood euphemism for a performer with darker skin) to assume the identity of bad-ass special agent Triple X. (Long-time Simpsons fans are likely to be reminded of the executive on The Itchy and Scratchy Show who insists the animators "rastafy" their in-your-face creation Poochie.) Instead of Diesel, we've ended up with former NWA and Are We There Yet? star Ice Cube, which is a bit like replacing David Beckham as England captain with Christopher Biggins, and also makes a nonsense of Jackson's self-righteous pledge to avoid films starring members of the recording industry. "Are you sure we got the right guy?," one of Jackson's flunkies wonders. Well, somebody had to ask.
Anyhow, for some reason Triple X 2.0 is installed in an abandoned Washington cinema turned joinery shop, staffed for some reason by pneumatic women in underwear that makes Jennifer Beals' choice of attire as the welder in Flashdance appear conservative. (The first greasy, lingering pan across this location reveals at least 39 clear breaches of health-and-safety regulations.) Cube's mad espionage skills include hiding behind a tray of drinks to overhear treasonous conversation, and using an array of microwaveable meals to throw off a SWAT team. Later, he will take a tank to blow up Capitol Hill. His philosophy - a bling perversion of JFK - is "don't do it for the Red, White and Blue, do it for yourself", which is very laudable, I'm sure. Director Lee Tamahori gives it the usual textures of the big-budget action sequel, it being full of metal objects going vroom or boom, with wood, plastic, or - in Cube's case - some sort of doughy substance where the flesh and blood players might usually be. It's funny for about thirty minutes, then the brain starts turning to lard.
XXX2: The Next Level is available on DVD through Sony Pictures Home Entertainment; a sequel, XXX3: The Return of Xander Cage, opens in cinemas nationwide from Friday.