XXX II: State of the Union
This movie is interesting, but also kind of awful. You can read about why it's awful elsewhere, although no one seems to mention the execrable writing. Maybe they think that all action movies have to have terrible, terrible scripts. At any rate, here are some reasons that I thought it was interesting:

Although I feel weird saying it (the people who agree with me on this issue are not the people I want most as allies) I don't really like realistic violence or sex in movies. I didn't enjoy Once Upon a Time in Mexico, and I never saw the second half of Kill Bill. I'm loathe to claim that I want "family entertainment", but the Dukes of Hazard previews make me uncomfortable and I refused to watch D.E.B.S. The Hunger bothered me a little less (although it also made me uncomfortable) because at least it was honest porn (or, shall we say, honest in its explicit sexuality). At any rate, xXx II is a movie with almost no cursing. Things blow up, but almost all of the human vs. human violence is implied and off screen. Not very many people even get shot. Also, to my delight, there is a running joke about what Ice Cube wants after nine years in prison: it's strongly implied that he wants sex, but it turns out he just wants a burger and a shake. Who knows why they did this, as the original movie certainly had more sex and probably had more violence, but was also rated PG-13.

As you may know, I have kind of a thing about gender politics. In fact, it was gender that destroyed the first xXx movie--one scene in particular, in which the bad guys drove their motorcycles up to a pool filled with girls, and lifted out the ones they wanted like beer cans from a cooler. There were other problems with the movie certainly, but the portrayal of women throughout really spoiled it for me. In this movie, however, the gender politics weren't so bad. I'm not claiming that there were female protagonists or anything, and to be sure it was set in a "man's world" where women are necessarily passive. However, none of the women are explicitly doomed to a life of objecthood in the way the women in the first movie were. The chop shop girls wear tiny skirts and skimpy shirts, but they are also carrying around engine parts--they might well be mechanics. And the love interest is an empowered, intelligent, powerful black woman. She never actually does anything, of course, her role is purely to support Ice Cube, but we are lead to believe that she does an awful lot off screen, and she throws around car terminology faster than anyone else.

It's safe to say that gender inequality plays a role in my day-to-day life, both in how I'm treated, and in how my partner feels about her life. Racial equality doesn't have the same impact, so it's much harder for me to judge in a film. As my friend Dorian pointed out, it's pretty cool to have a mainstream movie where the super-cool secret agent is black, and so is his boss. In fact, nearly all of the good guys are black, Ice Cube isn't quite seduced by the white women (almost, though) and she turns out to be evil. So that's all pretty cool. However, the good guys are not just black, they are black criminals. And not computer hackers or trained assassins, they are all car jackers and thugs. When the bad guys storm the base they are dressed as super-cool science fiction ninjas:

When Ice Cube storms the same base, he's in his urban bugler gear, complete with ski mask and 9mm, and he's being chased by white men in suites.

Which brings me to the most interesting facet of the movie, by far: throughout the hour and a half, the script (terrible writing and all) repeatedly runs right up to the edge of radicalism, before veering back to clichéd blacksploitation. For example, the crux of the plot involves the Secretary of Defense planning to take out the President because he thinks that the president is too soft. It is the clear premise of the movie that the President is not too soft--that he is the right man for the job, and that he's doing the right thing. The Secretary of Defense sounds exactly like the current administration, while the president sounds exactly like my part of the left wing (he wants compromise, he wants to work together, he wants an end to war, &c.). It is so far from the current state of affairs that it really seems political... but it isn't really very forceful. And then there is this thematic subplot about the African-Americans in D.C., who are marginalized and criminal. The movie almost implies that they are criminalized, but not quite. There's a scene where they take to the streets, they march on Washington, they fire a mortar at the Capital Building. My eyes lit up, and I was half-hopeful that Rage Against the Machine was going to start playing. Maybe the movie would end with the Secretary of Defense and the president getting killed in a class revolution!! It was this close! But no.

This movie prompted an interesting (mostly) discussion with Dorian in which she argued that entertainment was entertainment, and I argued that all media is political. She seemed to think that if something was mass marketed and supported the status quo (i.e. "women are for sexin'", or "black guys are thugs") then it wasn't political, and that only something divergent from the status quo could be considered political. She hesitantly agreed with me that, even in the 20's, minstrel shows counted as more than entertainment, and I'm trying to avoid Hitler but she would have had to agree with me there, I think. It was inconceivable to her that Romantic Comedies, however, could ever be more than fluff. This prompted me to ask her why Must Love Dogs starred John Cusak and Diane Lane, but would never have starred John Cusak and John Malcovich. I'm not sure that that was a very convincing approach, but I do like the idea.