Originally this started as a short review on the film XXX-- the medium budget, massively advertised action movie starring Vin Diesel and Samuel L -rub-your-eyes-and- wonder- what bet-did-he-lose-now-that-he's-part-of-this-movie-- Jackson.
Recommend this product?
XXX is directed by Rob Cohen. Rob Cohen doesn't make good movies, never has, probably never will. He's made some really bad films as a matter of fact but what you really need to know is that he made last summer's THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS. This was the rather low budget racing movie that utterly blew the big budgeted remake of GONE IN SIXTY SECONDS out of the water. In fact it blew away nearly ever big, empty, lumbering tent pole wanna-be- blockbuster out of the water last summer. FAST AND FURIOUS was the little movie that could. It made a lot of jaws in Hollywood drop wide open.
Because no one believed it was going to happen. There was little faith the movie would even break even, let alone make a small fortune. No one even believed that Vin Diesel was all THAT as a box-office draw of any kind. Sure he had a cult of fans that swear he elevated the less than mediocre film PITCH BLACK into something worth seeing, but none of the big executives realized he was a guy injected with enough charisma to create a really big box office movie.
Even more stunning is the fact that FAST AND THE FURIOUS was directed by a director over the age of 50 that didn't have a reputation for making box office hits of any kind. You see in Hollywood you might have an in demand and respected director who is over 50… but he made his name and reputation when he was in 20's or 30's. No 50 year old director is supposed to be making the kind of summer blockbuster that appeals to 14 year olds, unless they have proven in their 30's and 40's that they can do this sort of thing on time and on budget. You have to understand that Hollywood executives figure that anyone over 35 is going to have a real uphill battle in capturing the minds and hearts of the 14 year old boys who buy lotsa movie tickets. If your last few movies haven't hit grand slam home runs out of the park, well there are dozens of music video directors worth rolling the dice with, then giving some old fogey another chance to direct/produce or write a film. They're over, history… NEXT. Rob Cohen at 50-plus made one of the hottest and most successful movie of last year.
And so, in a town where 'nobody knows anything', a whole bunch of folks decided that Rob Cohen knows something others don't.
So what does Rob want to do now with his sudden success? Hey, how about a sequel? Well, pay Rob and Vin the big big money and they will make the sequel… or..if you don't want to pay big bucks for Rob and Vin because you don't quite believe they can hit the big grand slam again… then that's okay… Rob and Vin will set up a brand new movie that has sequel possibilities, that they own more rights to and can make much more money on.
X X X is another push the pedal to the metal kind of action, action action movie. Leave your brain at home, this movie is going to be packed with wild action, smart as6s lines, some hiss worthy villains, some cool gadgets, and some wet your whistle female eye candy for all the 14 year old boys trapped in aging bodies that wander into the multiplex. It will push all the buttons these kinds of movies need to push. It will even do so and avoid an R rating !!! Cohen may be in his 50's but he knows how to write and shoot this kind of slickly made junk. He can do it with a lot less pretension and macho corporate game playing than your Michael Bays or James Camerons too and under 2 hours two !!! And just like the big boys he really doesn't know what to do with women in action movies.
Rob Cohen has really paid attention to pop movies, and genres to concoct a proven recipe for making movies that lets him use the slickness of American Movies and music videos, steal from the best of Hong Kong action movies, and spice it up with Vin Diesel's tough take no prisoners, world wide wrestling anti-hero type charisma. to the max. Don't give the guy too much dialogue, don't ask him to do much listening and non-action acting. They guy was built to do muscular things and the object is to make sure he moves. So making his character an EXTREME sport fanatic who inexplicably markets himself as an Anti-hero who somehow gets away with pulling off huge utterly illegal stunts is a great way to open a dumb action movie. And then give him a few lines to say in his deep deep voice.
Even better, imight as well begin a whole tent pole movie franchise by setting him up as a new James Bond kind of character. Even better if you get a guy like Samuel L. Jackson who oozes charisma and coolness to play an updated version of M. We'll prove he ain't you're daddy's M by not keeping him in a stuffy office and giving him a big nasty scar and a sadistic streak that shows he can PARTY too. Course his party is serious and somewhat responsible and involves hiring unconventional outcasts to become secret agents so they can save the world against a new breed of terrorists who….. ooops.. wait wait.. we won't quite make the bad guys terrorists… .. not a good idea… hold on… stop the show for a second. Ah okay.. we'll make them so over the top that they'll appear like cartoon villains, you know comic book villains right before the industrial accident or experiment goes sour and gives them super human powers? We'll make the bad guys into pre- comic bad guy villains and no one will stop and think and worry about them being terrorists. You also won't think too much about the destroy the world because it's fun to destroy the world city by city plot the ex-Russian spy bad guy concocts. He's just your I want stuff to blow up real good kind of bad boy. Okay for the record the deadly doomsday device is a nasty piece of biological warfare merchandise dubbed 'Silent Night'.
Okay let me stop right now. The plot is barely coherent and every thing the movie does makes very little sense and if you look at it for more than… well if you do more than glance and blink at it, it will make even less sense.
It is a dumb action movie but unlike the dumb ones by Michael Bay, Renny Harlin, Richard Donner and other hacks make, you get the feeling Rob Cohen is actually having fun making this wacky movie. Cohen is like the skate board rebel who's broken into some rich guys back yard, drained the pool and invited all of us to come in and party. Sure it's a waste of time but kick back, have fun and have some laughs. You don't feel the tension in the air that films costing 200 billion trillion dollars to make seem to exude when they move into the local megaplexes. There isn't the screaming cross promotional Austin Powers over-sell sitting heavily on your chest demanding your attention. No XXX rub on tattoos at McDonalds, no X X X special secret agent knock out dart guns at Burger King. The film doesn't star some pretty boy suddenly metamorphousizing himself into some junior Arnold or some 60 year old, pretending he's 45, with a love interest who is 25.
This is just a big dumb action film on it's surface and below it's surface. . .? Well, below it's surface is a big Cheshire cat grinning and asking, "What were you expecting, rock and roll?"
XXX is a shallow cartoon-- bad Hanna- Barberra, not Warner Brothers. Surprised? Of course you aren't. I was stifling myself from laughing at how awful the film was almost from the very beginning. There are two opening action set pieces that set up the next couple of action set pieces that lead to… well, a little sexiness and then another action set piece and then the big action finale action set piece. The first one is set in Prague and introduces us to the bad guys setting up the toothpicks upon which the entire McGuffin movie plot will be built upon. It is very loud and flashy but actually quite modest in terms of action movie set pieces. After that we get a somewhat spectacular big action movie set piece (the kind Richard Donner likes to open his Lethal Weapon sequels with). It would take 500 to 1,000 words (probably more) to describe how stupid the premise of the five minute action scene that introduces us to Xander (Vin Diesel) truly is. How it doesn't make any sense, how the stunt is so dangerous and nearly impossible on several levels it wouldn't be attempted by anyone who enjoyed life and pushing the limits as much as the character of Xander does. How 90 percent of the stunt isn't an adrenalin rush (and so wouldn't appeal to the 'you can call me X' guy) and requires so much split second timed logistical pre-preparation to pull off, it would have had to have been coordinated and rehearsed by such a huge team of experts that even Congress wouldn't find the money to fund the thing. And even after all that. . . the success of the stunt and the ability of its perpetrator to not only survive the stunt, but escape arrest is less than 1 in a 10,000. But you're not watching this movie because it's just like your life. It's a fantasy movie.
Okay so you don't care about that. We know it's dumb and stupid, Chris, we saw the trailer. Right. My point is that this film begins as low and dumb as any action movie you have seen… and sinks lower and lower as it progresses!!! It even works HARD at sinking lower. It takes a moment here and there to pretend there is a semblance of logic and half explain something to the audience and then proceeds to pull the rug out from under its own semi-incoherent self. I mean why have a dialogue scene to explain something to us if a few scenes later your going to pretend the scene never took place and expect the audience to forget the former scene completely? This movie operates on the principal that if your attention span is longer than three minutes, you also have a healthy sense of humor and are a connoisseur of bad movies and will appreciate the giant leaps the film moves forward with.
Want a test? Okay… without giving too much away… you have a character in one scene who doesn't know some vital information because she has never been allowed to go into the basement of this castle like complex to see exactly what the bad guys are working on. Well after getting a two or three minute update she is suddenly extremely knowledgeable about the workings of this doomsday device sharing her surprising knowledge with our hero. How does she suddenly know this information? Who knows. If that kind of inanity bothers you and you can't laugh AT it… you don't want to waste your time and money on it. There's another scene for example where X drops off his car to be outfitted and wired up with all kinds of weapons within a couple of hours. It's not authorized, but screw that.. no time to get authorization, just get it done. Not only is this complex job done within a couple of hours, but X is even given a manual that will explain how everything works (a manual that appears to be perfect bound and professionally printed too). Yeah take this real serious folks… it makes a lot of sense. A custom job that should take weeks to complete (as if it was even possible) is completed in a couple hours and somehow the guy writes an instruction manual to go along with it. Heck, it's taken me a couple hours to write this movie review and I haven't even mowed the lawn, let alone re-wired and installed an arsenal of weapons into a souped up GTO!!!! Why is all this stuff here? Because it's a joke, it's all a big put on. And the people who made this film want everyone to know it's a joke and want you to enjoy the joke too.
If these filmmakers were trying to have their cake and eat it too, the whole thing wouldn't have been fun to me. I would be angry, I probably would have walked out on the thing. You see I want to like action movies. They can be time-wasters, they can be forgettable, then can be pretty stupid and dumb…. but action film makers need to decide how silly and dumb they want to get and then more or less stick with the box they draw. If they are making a cartoon, rather than a thriller, then make a really fun cartoon without any apologies for doing so. Cohen and company do exactly that.
Right from the beginning of this movie we are told… this one is going to be one of the dumbest and most worthless action films you have ever seen. The whole movie will be like one pre-credit action sequence from Bond movies after another with three minute breather scenes in between.
Are we going to stop and write a couple of extra big scenes for Samuel L Jackson because we got lucky enough to get him to be in this film? No we are not. We will not
slow this movie down for no one or no reason-not logic, not plausibility, not to create an acting moment for Mr. Jackson -- for no reason.
Rob Cohen and company however steal 30 seconds here and there to throw in some extra things to anyone who is actually paying attention to this clap trap. Now it might be even more annoying to some to think that these people actually do know how bad a film they are making and are making it anyway (and proudly). However, this particular team of star and director are atypical of star/director teams. They didn't make the film with 200 million dollars. The star isn't a Tom Cruise hiring a John Woo to make a sequel to an over-blown movie version of an old t.v. show. This a director who was beyond the age of being sent out to pasture to Hollywood and a star who no one predicted would be a real star. So I'm not watching this awful movie thinking how it is further ruining any hope that good movies might be made and released during the summertime which is the way I usually feel if I'm watching the latest Michael Bay travesty or having to see how a Joel Schumacher destroys what slim bit of worth the Batman movie franchise might have had.
(NOTE: Okay saying all this, unfortunately Rob Cohen movies will start being huge budgeted things from now on… I mean the entire budget of FAST AND THE FURIOUS will in the future be spent on just the salaries of Vin Diesel, Rob Cohen and Sam L. Jackson in the sequel to XXX. And with that much money at stake.. well I don't know that Cohen and company will be having quite the fun they have had in making the last couple. Since Cohen isn't a gifted visionary but a glorified genre filmmaker one might be cringing at his future projects very soon. )
No, no with Rob Cohen and XXX I see a guy who has never made a good movie in his long career, further his Fast and Furious resurrection by making the kind of genre film Hollywood keeps pretending its difficult to make. He's also made it for less than one quarter of the money that they usually waste on this junk and he's made it without talking about it for two years, without apologizing for it, without coming up with some little new multi million dollar digital effect doo-hickey that does nothing to make movies any better.
Oh in case you didn't hear about this...Yes, Rob Cohen does actually play the Third Man Theme for about ten seconds in the beginning of one of the scenes in this movie. And yes, I started to cringe and feel my breakfast want to be unleashed and used as a projectile toward the screen. Then I realized… there's only a few people in the audience who even know what this piece of music is and what it represents. It reminds me that XXX is a movie that is filling theater seats in record numbers because it is big, loud and has attitude and it manages to slip in a nod here acknowledging and trying to connect with older members of the audience (risky stuff in a film for 14 year olds). Maybe a younger member of the audience will ask and older member why that was part of the movie, or maybe they'll make a connection later on. I learned a lot about popular culture and even historical figures from Warner Brothers and Bugs Bunny cartoons. I wanted to understand all the jokes so I had to gain a little knowledge about music, politicians, details about the military etc. There is a little bit of that in this live action cartoon.
The film in fact is so proud of how awful it is that it is its own built in self-parody of a movie. We don't need a Mike Meyers or ZAZ or any Wayans to make fun of films like this one… they are making fun of themselves and beginning to self destruct in front of the audience they are supposed to entertain. I mean it is not believable for one nano-second that a character can use the force of an explosion to help him fly his motorcycle a little further, clear a roof top and then use the roof of the building as it is blown up to successfully complete a jump onto terra firma while avoiding helicopters strafing his path with bullets. Do you believe a character can free-fall thousands of feet with a snowboard, create an instant Avalanche with some pocket explosives and then out ski it and essentially save the world in the process? Is anyone in the audience really saying wow that is so awesome that it blows my mind? Well is there anyone over the age of 12 actually trying to figure out how such a thing is possible?
What worries me though is that for the last forty minutes of the movie I was laughing pretty much non-stop (chuckling to belly laughs) and having fun with how utterly ridiculous and absurd the film was. How it was such a unabashedly stupid bad, bad movie. I was one of the few people in the crowded auditorium laughing. I was having fun, enjoying laughing AT the film…. but most people weren't laughing. I mean a big city is about to be blown up and suddenly we get some cutaways of crowds of people in the city who don't even realize they are about to be killed. Then we get cutaways of gargoyle like statues, then we get a shot of an innocent young child (red coat?). They are sympathy shots, but so obvious and badly done the cliché' is a parody. If there are any doubts, we have shots of these statues thrown in telling us in no uncertain terms how utterly ridiculous it all is. How was anyone keeping a straight face during all of this? It should have either disgusted the audience to the point they got up and left or it should struck them how ridiculous the film was and they should have been laughing like I was. I think they were all in shock at how low the film was stooping. I think they were shocked to learn that you could get lower than some of the drek that Hollywood has made in the last few years.
This wasn't just low though, this was in the so bad it's good range of movie that few films have ever been able to attain. There's just too many safety valves these days. Really awful bad movies rarely get released to theaters anymore. Usually they are are made into dull mediocre movies after several test preview screenings force some new scenes and edits to occur. If the film still can't excite an audience then rather than spend the millions on advertising the film is released to cable and video direct.
I'm not sure the film is going to keep drawing in the huge crowds it has been drawing. It was number one at the box office and very impressively number one. It may be close to breaking even already. I don't think the audience however, enjoys the awfulness of the film but instead is trying to enjoy the film based on the predictable spectacle of the big summer action movie. Well if the spectacle is predictable it stops being exciting and unique enough to draw an audience. Sure an action movie should have someone snowboarding an avalanche.. what's the big deal with that? So if you read that the box office for XXX sinks like a stone, you'll know the majority of the audience doesn't realize the film is a put-on.
Maybe that means the mindless blockbuster really is losing it's appeal and they'll stop making quite as many of them. Maybe I'll have a really good reason in the future for liking Rob Cohen-as the guy who finally dulled the luster of big dumb summer action blockbusters to the point they started being less than a most likely to make lot of money at the box office kind of worthless movie. Maybe the multiplexes will stop booking films like XXX into 4 of their screens at once, but will allow 1 screen to show an independent or foreign film from France, or Iran or even Canada. And maybe the little film will not be kicked off it's screen right away to make room for The Impossible Rush Lethal Die Hardier Siege Part 16. Maybe they'll keep the little film playing for a few weeks so that people who see it and like the little movie (that doesn't have a million dollar advertising budget to promote itself with) will have more than 12 hours to tell other people to go see this wonderful little movie before it disappears from the theaters and winds up NOT appearing on a DVD in a Blockbuster and Hollywood Video store near you in six months.
Hey, one can always hope, right?
Now if you want to see a film that's good and in Theaters right now the best one is still THE FAST RUNNER and then,
24 Hour Party People, The Kid Stays in the Picture, Lovely and Amazing, or Tadpole.
Copyright© Christopher J. Jarmick 2002. All rights Reserved
Christopher J. Jarmick is the co-author of the critically acclaimed suspense thriller The Glass Cocoon (with Serena F. Holder). Recently articles on cult movies, independent book stores, interviews with cult movie directors and several poems have been published in Cult Cuts Magazine, South District Journal, Beacon Hill News, PoetsWest Literary Journal, Cambridge Book Review, Peeks and Valleys, and others.
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