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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
In the summer of 2002, Vin Diesel and Rob Cohen attempted to jump-start an action franchise with their collaboration xXx (pronounced and hereby referred to afterwards as “Triple X”). Produced by Columbia Pictures through their now-defunct Revolution Studios subsidiary, Triple X was filmed on a relatively low budget of 70 million dollars. It became a huge hit upon release, grossing nearly 300 million worldwide and spawning immediate talk of a sequel. Diesel’s continued Hollywood clout meant at this point he could pretty much pick and choose roles on his own, and a sequel to Triple X was put on the backburner.
Unfortunately for Diesel, his next film, The Chronicles of Riddick, a big budget sequel to his indie hit Pitch Black, flopped. The film was such a noteworthy disaster that Diesel, whose star had been growing exponentially, lost nearly all of his accrued Hollywood power almost overnight. Meanwhile, director Rob Cohen began work on what he hoped would be his next big planned hit, Stealth (a film notable for being 2005’s biggest money loser). So when Sony finally got around to financing a sequel to Triple X, the 2005 flop xXx: State of the Union (which will hereafter be referred to as State of the Union), neither its original star nor its intended director were involved (though Cohen stayed on as producer). So what exactly went wrong?
Vin Diesel was replaced in the Triple X sequel by Ice Cube, a capable enough actor and entertainment personality but one not particularly known for starring in action films – his biggest film hits have been in the genre of comedy (think the Friday film series and the more recent Ride Along). Lee Tamahori, who had previously directed the James Bond sequel Die Another Day (which had its own share of problems), replaced Cohen in the director’s chair. While not an incompetent action director, Tamahori’s style is significantly different from that of Cohen, who is known more for his ability to appeal to younger filmgoers. These significant changes to the franchise more than likely largely alienated audiences, who more than likely saw Diesel as the one and true Triple X character.
Additionally, the original Triple X could best be described as a product of its era. The early 00s were an incredibly popular time for extreme sports and rap-rock, and these were both highly prevalent in the film. Featuring cameos by the band Rammstein as well as extreme sports icons Mat Hoffman and Tony Hawk, Triple X was almost designed by committee to appeal to early 00s-era youth – and it worked, as the film was a huge hit. The sequel largely stayed away from these elements, as extreme sports had fallen out of fashion, as had the style of music featured in the first film. The sequel replaced the original’s more hard rock soundtrack with one comprised almost solely of hip hop and rap.
In late April of 2005, State of the Union grossed a paltry 12.7 million dollars on its opening weekend, less than half of what the original had grossed in its first weekend back in August 2002. Films like The Interpreter and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy overpowered State of the Union in subsequent weekends (along with absolutely atrocious reviews and negative comparison to the well-received first installment), and the film wound up with just 26 million dollars domestically. The film ultimately drew in just a bit over 70 million worldwide, over two hundred million less than the business the original did. Lee Tamahori has essentially been in director’s jail ever since, and Revolution Studios largely folded just two years later (the last remaining Revolution productions are both television series airing on FX).
State of the Union’s international and domestic franchise killed any chance of an additional film in the franchise, though Diesel himself has shown interest in returning to the role. In January 2014, Diesel announced work on a script was well underway. I would not be opposed to Diesel appearing in a third installment, I just don’t think audiences really care that much anymore. As a character, audiences never really connected with Xander “Triple X” Cage, and as noted earlier he was almost entirely a product of early-00s extreme sports hubris. But still, it couldn’t turn out much worse than State of the Union, one of the decade’s most baffling action films to come out of Hollywood.