xXx2: Ice Cube has apparently joined the cast of the xXx sequel, xXx 2, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Vin Diesel and director Rob Cohen have opted out of the upcoming sequel to the 2002 actioner about an extreme athlete-turned-secret agent, prompting Revolution Studios to tap Ice Cube to star and "Die Another Day" helmer Lee Tamahori to direct the second installment of the franchise, which will begin production in the summer and hit theaters in 2005.

According to Revolution, all parties involved determined that the franchise was best served by the introduction of a new "XXX" character in each film. Although Diesel and Cohen will not reprise their roles for the sequel, they will remain executive producers on the project.

"When we made the decision to cast a new lead actor, Ice Cube was the perfect choice," Revolution Studios 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."

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For Ice Cube, the project marks the rapper-turned-actor's highest-profile role to date and comes on the heels of such hits as "Barbershop" and the "Friday" series. Before the new "XXX" film, Ice Cube will star for Revolution Studios in the family comedy "Are We There Yet?" which he also will produce under his Cube Vision banner with partner Matt Alvarez. That film begins production next month in Vancouver. He has just wrapped the "Barbershop" sequel for MGM and next appears in the January Warner Bros. Pictures release "Torque."

Diesel will now focus on Revolution's "Hannibal" as his next project, while Cohen's next project will be Columbia Pictures' "Stealth."

"XXX" marks the second time that both Diesel and Cohen have chosen not to participate in the sequel to a franchise they launched, following on the heels of Universal Pictures' "The Fast and the Furious." The sequel to that 2001 hit was released this past summer, with Tyrese replacing Diesel and John Singleton replacing Cohen behind the camera.

Brian B.