If there’s one thing to say about xXx: State of the Union, it’s that it didn’t feel like a cheap cash-in, in hopes to make some money based solely on the xXx name. They actually spent $87 million on this installment, and that’s without spending millions of dollars to bring Vin Diesel back. At least it feels like a somewhat professionally made film, which, at least in that area, exceeded my expectations.

The story begins with an NSA bunker being attacked by a bunch of men with guns. Agent Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson returns from the previous film) is one of the few people to escape the assault. He, decides that, since Xander Cage was killed in-between films, a point that is made abundantly clear with how many times it’s mentioned, he needs another person to take on the role of xXx. He decides on a prison inmate that he had worked with before the first film, who has a bad attitude and has been serving a 20-year prison sentence. Darius Stone (Ice Cube) is selected as the new agent, and he’s who we follow for most of the film.

The plot sets up awkwardly when we learn that Willem Dafoe is the Secretary of Defense, named George Deckert. He’s our bad guy because he wants to somehow become President of the United States. He kills some people who we’re told is the chain-of-command. Apparently if all of these people die, and then the president dies, he’ll become President. Okay, we’ll go with that. He appoints an agent named Kyle (Scott Speedman) to handle the NSA bunker, but for reasons that aren’t especially clear, he turns on the government to team up with the “rebels” that we’re supposed to be cheering for.

Most of the film doesn’t have anything to do with the final showdown, except to either show us that Stone is quite good at fighting or risking his life in action scenes, or to see Willem Dafoe’s character being evil. Up until the final 20 or so minutes, we aren’t even exactly sure what Deckert’s plan is, or how Stone is planning to stop him. The previous film didn’t have a great plot, but at least it made sense the entire time. That’s not the case this time around.

The only reason I can figure that Deckert wants to become president is because of a couple of scenes early on when the President tells him that he’s reducing the military budget so that he can spend more money on humanitarian efforts. That’s right, Deckert wants more money spent on the military so that the third world will suffer. This is how you create an evil human being, ladies and gentlemen. But he never actually says this, meaning you have to guess his motivations. And it’s possible that maybe in this universe, more spending on military is necessary to maintain the country. One character refers to his plan as a “revolution”. So really, he could be looked at as the good guy, if you want to make that claim. You could definitely argue it.

But since we follow Ice Cube — who, meaning no offense to the man, is no Vin Diesel — he must be the good person. He starts off with a bad attitude, telling Gibbons that he’ll do whatever he wants, but he ends up following orders and giving in to requests. He has the “bad boy” mentality for a few minutes, but then becomes just completely blank, having no personality of his own. Oh, and he also doesn’t even speak proper English, which I found incredibly annoying.

Not even the action scenes are that entertaining. I liked the first one, where Darius escapes from his prison with the help of Gibbons and a helicopter, but after that, they were boring. Not only were they boring, but they were almost all CGI. The climax of the film happens on a bullet train, made of special effects, which is chased by a car, also made of special effects. Maybe the background was CGI too, but I can’t be sure. I would guess that most of the budget went into the CGI in this film, and it’s distracting. Bad CGI just looks silly, and it takes you far out of the film.

I also had a really difficult time buying Ice Cube as an action hero. He wasn’t in great shape when filming this, and seeing him do some of the stunts in the film made me laugh. He even seemed to have difficulty running around, and all this made me do was miss Vin Diesel. At least he looked the part of an action hero. And when Diesel delivered one-liners that were supposed to sound intimidating, they did. Hearing them come from Ice Cube’s mouth just made me giggle.

xXx: State of the Union is a poorly made sequel, but at least it didn’t feel cheaply made. Unfortunately, not much actually worked. The casting was poor, and as a result, gave terrible performances. The writing made me cringe at times, but it wasn’t just the dialogue that was bad, it was how some of the characters were written that was disappointing. But worst of all, the action scenes weren’t fun or interesting, but instead, poor CGI-fests that made me laugh at how awful they looked. Even if you liked xXx, I wouldn’t suggest watching this sequel.