”XXX” opens with a familiar scene from spy movies. A secret agent knocks out a bad guy, taking his valuable package, in this case a computer chip. The agent strips off his black camo to reveal an expensive tux and then prepares to enter the bad guys’ party. Small problem: this isn’t a James Bond flick and the party isn’t a black-tie affair. Instead, the tuxedoed secret agent sticks out like a sore thumb amongst a mosh pit of tattooed Goths, punks, and metalheads slamming against each other to the soothing sounds of German industrial band Rammstein. Needless to say, pretty boy secret agent is easily spotted and dispatched by the villain’s goons. Message: to infiltrate this group, you’ll need tattoos, not a tux.
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Solution: NSA honcho Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) decides to find an agent from among the criminals, renegades, and other members of the fringe elements of society. He ends up with Xander Cage (Vin Diesel), extreme sport athlete and internet rebel against the establishment. He’s got tattoos, and lots of ‘em. Since Xander (“‘X’ to his friends”) recently used a state senator’s Corvette off as a platform to base jump off a bridge (with tragic consequences for the ‘Vette), Gibbons has him over a barrel – Xander either goes to prison or he goes to work as an NSA agent.
Of course, Triple-X chooses to go to Prague to infiltrate a group of former Russian soldiers turned anarchists. The rest of the plot is strictly formulaic - despite its potshot at James Bond in the opening scene, it follows the same path as Bond movie – secret agent befriends villain with foreign accent, sleeps with a couple of women, romances the villain’s girlfriend, takes out small army of bad guys with some help from local law enforcement, and then has to stop the villain’s doomsday weapon before it kills millions of people. Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt. Along the way, a lot of stuff gets blown up, a lot of women show a lot of skin (but not all of it – it’s PG-13, you know), and a lot of disbelief is suspended.
Nonetheless, I enjoyed the movie, although I’ll confess my almost supernatural ability to suspend disbelief. Yes, various parts of the story serve no purpose and make no sense other than to give Xander the opportunity to snowboard in front of an avalanche or parasail behind speeding hovercraft/doomsday device. Yes, Walter, you’re absolutely right – what idiot of a villain puts his chemical weapons which can only be neutralized by water on a boat (see Mangiotto’s review here or at FilmFreakCentral.net). Ignore all that – enjoy the snowboarding, the parasailing, the best motorcycle jumping since Steve McQueen in The Great Escape (Yes, I’m well-aware that I just committed blasphemy) and that sweet ’67 GTO.
What ultimately prevents XXX from being a great action movie is its writer and director. Their respective pedigrees make this no surprise – director Rob Cohen (graduate of a lesser Ivy League school) hasn’t made a truly good movie since Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, having subjected us to crap like Daylight and The Skulls since then. Writer Rich Wilkes must have blackmail pictures on someone, as his most notable writing credit is Airheads. That’s right, Airheads. I found Martin Csokas sorely lacking as the villain, Yorgi. Maybe it’s the script’s fault, not his, but the paperboy in Better Off Dead inspired more fear than this clown. Asia Argento, daughter of famed Italian director Dario Argento (go see Mike Bracken’s profile for who he is, Yankee heathens), does a decent job of acting, but frankly, if you’re going to make a movie that’s all about eye candy, give us something better to look at than Asia. My wife gets to look at Vin Diesel, and Asia is no Bond girl.
Speak of Vin Diesel, he’s being trumpeted as the next Schwarzenegger on the basis of this movie. Of course, moviegoers have been looking for the next Schwarzenegger like basketball fans have been looking for the next Jordan – he ain’t here yet, either. I really liked Diesel in both Pitch Black and Boiler Room. He’s now turned out a couple of schlock action films with ”XXX” and The Fast and the Furious. If you remember, Arnold turned out a couple of schlock action movies after The Terminator, so there’s still hope for Diesel yet. Before I pass final judgment, I’ll wait to see if Riddick, the follow up to Pitch Black, has more substance than the dreck turned out by Rob Cohen. Cohen won’t be directing Riddick, and Akiva Goldsmith is handling some of the writing duties, so Diesel fans, keep your fingers crossed.
”XXX” is aimed at the same audience that The Fast and the Furious was, and since that schlock churned $40 million its opening weekend, look for Diesel to have another box office winner here. I’ll admit to enjoying both movies, but be forewarned, check your disbelief and your critic’s credentials at the door.
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