Cube in for Vin on ‘XXX’

Rapper replaces thesp in action sequel, pic to lense in 2004

This article was updated at 7:18 p.m.

Revolution Studios has enlisted a new secret agent: Ice Cube will replace Vin Diesel in the studio’s sequel to its action franchise “XXX,” to be helmed by Lee Tamahori.

Originally envisioned as a franchise to star Diesel, Cube will step in to play a new character who is recruited by the National Security Agency to become a XXX agent. The XXX name refers to a three-strikes rule the NSA employs to give criminals the option of joining the crime-fighting force or going to prison.

Tamahori will direct the new adventure, which will be largely set in Washington D.C. and emphasize thriller elements over the first’s extreme sports action.

“When we made the decision to cast a new lead actor, Cube was the perfect choice,” Revolution partner Todd Garner said. “He is a fantastic actor who has the attitude and versatility required to bring this new character to life. We are extremely indebted to Vin who helped us launch the franchise and look forward to working with him on the two projects we are developing together.”

Tamahori will helm from a script by Simon Kinberg (“Mr. and Mrs. Smith”). Tamahori is starting to make a name for himself when it comes to directing spies. His last pic was MGM’s latest James Bond actioner “Die Another Day.”

He replaces Rob Cohen, who helmed “XXX” and is moving on to direct Columbia Pictures actioner “Stealth” as his next pic.

Revolution is putting the “XXX” sequel on the fast track with plans to begin lensing the pic next summer. It will bow in 2005.

“XXX” generated $277 million at the worldwide B.O.

Neal Moritz will return as the franchise’s producer, while Garner will serve as executive producer. Diesel and Cohen will also serve as executive producers.

Revolution’s Derek Dauchy will oversee the project for the studio.

With his next starring role to be “The Chronicles of Riddick,” Universal’s followup to the sci-fi actioner “Pitch Black,” Diesel did not want to film two sequels back-to-back.

He will instead focus his attention on “Hannibal,” also at Revolution, as his next project. Written by “Gladiator” scribe David Franzoni, pic follows the exploits of the 3rd century B.C. Carthaginian general who rode an elephant across the Alps to attack Rome.

Before suiting up for “XXX 2,” Cube will star in Revolution’s family laffer “Are We There Yet?” That pic begins shooting next month in Vancouver. Cube is also producing the pic with his partner Matt Alvarez.

The thesp, repped by CAA and the Firm, recently wrapped the sequel to MGM’s “Barbershop.” He will next be seen in Warner Bros.’ motorcyle actioner “Torque,” which races into theaters in January.

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