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MOVIE REVIEW

Proof that pimping ain't easy

IT'S certainly not news that Hollywood has embraced MTV. Today's mainstream movies sit comfortably alongside the programming of the famed music channel - particularly because they frequently amount to little more than pretty people moving to a soundtrack of the latest pop hits. What's surprising about XXX 2, though, is that it feels less like a music video and more like an episode of the network's highly successful (and imaginatively named) series Pimp My Ride.

XXX 2: The Next Level


Starring: Ice Cube, Samuel L Jackson, Willem Dafoe, Scott Speedman, Peter Straus
Directed by:Lee Tamahori
Running time: 100 min
Rating:6 out of 10


HIP-hop stars kick, punch and shoot their way on the silver screen.
photo: Itafilm

IT'S certainly not news that Hollywood has embraced MTV. Today's mainstream movies sit comfortably alongside the programming of the famed music channel - particularly because they frequently amount to little more than pretty people moving to a soundtrack of the latest pop hits. What's surprising about XXX 2, though, is that it feels less like a music video and more like an episode of the network's highly successful (and imaginatively named) series Pimp My Ride.

The show, hosted by hip-hop star Xzibit, has become one of the channel's most popular over the past few years - certainly an impressive accomplishment for a program that is so consistently unbearable. Basically a makeover show for automobiles, Pimp My Ride documents the transformation of cars from ordinarily trashy (some might say dilapidated) into obscenely gaudy. Inevitably the cars' owners strangely eat it all up. They whoop and holler as they examine the freshly chromed wheels, the new "booming" sound system that will enable them to be heard from blocks away, and the powerful new engine that will announce their arrival from an even greater distance.

MTV viewers seem to eat it all up as well. It's become virtually impossible to watch the channel without stumbling upon the show. The producers of XXX 2 apparently noticed this and wanted to cash in. The Vin Diesel-starring XXX rode on the wave of the extreme sports craze (skydiving, snowboarding, etc). But when Diesel refused to appear in the sequel, a remodelling became necessary.

They recruited hip-hop icon Ice Cube, a man whose early persona paved the way for drivel like Pimp My Ride. Cube should not be faulted for what has come in his wake, however. In addition to creating some fantastic music, he has consistently proven himself one of the most engaging of the hip-hop stars turned actors. His movies are not always so great, but his charisma is impossible to ignore. Whether strutting about menacingly or subtly mocking his macho persona, he's a joy to watch.

XXX 2 gives him room to do a bit of both, but the emphasis is clearly on toughness. His character, Darius Stone, at one point says with total believability, "Brother, I was born looking guilty". Though meant partly as a reference to racial discrimination, it accurately describes Darius: He enters the movie scowling and growling and punches, kicks, and shoots everyone that gets in his way.

The man who most refuses to get out of his way is US Secretary of Defence George Deckert (Willem Dafoe), a former general who had Darius put in jail for leading a mutiny against him. Convinced that the US president is too soft on his country's enemies, Deckert plans to assassinate him and seize control.

To stop the coup, Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L Jackson) of the National Security Agency springs Darius from jail. To prepare for battle, they go to Darius' old stomping grounds, the projects of Washington, DC. Here they find covert auto shops, where self-described "hustlas and thieves" build fast, flashy cars armed with high-tech weapons. Darius reminisces with and gets equipment from his old girlfriend Lola (Nona Gaye) and his friend Zeke (played by none other than Pimp My Ride Host Xzibit).

The path to saving the country is of course filled with complications and double crosses, but they're not nearly as important as the explosions and the fancy cars. In terms of special effects and action, the high-tech acrobatics of the first XXX were more impressive. But Cube is a far more interesting lead than the flat Diesel. Either way, the XXX franchise continues to putter along, despite the new paint job.

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