In the city of Prague, Czech Republic, a spy in the James Bond mold is on a mission of utmost importance. He knocks out a guard and surreptitiously sneaks into a fortress. Inside though appears to be some kind of grungy nightclub. Wearing an extremely fancy tuxedo, this secret agent is in a place he doesn’t belong. What he witnesses are people dancing almost trance-like to the music of a German punk rock group known as Rammstein. As Rammstein electrifies the raucous crowd, parts of the stage begin to shoot out flames. The pristine-looking secret agent does a poor job blending in with the crowd—which consists mostly of patrons bearing tattoo decorations on their bodies and sporting interesting hairstyles. The agent’s conspicuous appearance leads to his cover being blown…and he is promptly dispatched. His demise is a bold assertion on the filmmakers’ part—reminding the audience that the good guys can no longer win sitting on an ivory tower.
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So the NSA, led by big shot Augustus Gibbons (a scarred-face Samuel L. Jackson) looks to an unlikely source for recruitment: the criminals, convicts, thugs, call them whatever you want. They are society’s bottom-of-the-barrel. Use a criminal to catch the bad guys…what a novel idea! One particular subject has piqued their interest: an extreme sports fanatic and thrill-seeker named Xander Cage (Vin Diesel, Pitch Black), otherwise known as “Triple X” because he has three x’s tattooed on the back of his neck. Cage is a freewheeler who enjoys performing blatant acts of recklessness, and risking his life for the thrill of it all. He lives life in the fast lane and he isn’t slowing down. He has nothing to lose; actually, he doesn’t really care about the consequences of his actions because he treats every day like it’s the last day of his life…
Cage’s personality is exhibited in a truly outrageous action sequence. Disguised as a valet, Cage steals a red hot Corvette from a California senator (appropriately named Dick). While driving the stolen Corvette, Cage talks about his opposition to Dick’s censorship of video games and such. As the police is pursuing Cage, he decides to drive the Corvette off of a bridge. In a truly awesome sequence which will have you rubbing your eyes in awe and disbelief, Cage parachutes out of the airborne Corvette as it plunges downward. The Corvette crashes and explodes while Cage lands safely...
As Cage is celebrating his accomplishment with his friends, the festivities are interrupted when he finds himself suddenly surrounded by NSA agents. Cage is shot by one of those tranquilizer darts and the next thing he knows, he’s awakened up at a diner. But he suspects something: why is the lady who is serving him coffee wearing high heels? Cage is cognizant of what is going on and easily thwarts an attempted robbery. But it was all a "test" administered by the NSA and Cage "passed" with flying colors (especially after beating the daylights out of the two armed robbers—who were of course really agents).
Cage has then volunteered (read: been coerced) to help the U.S. government. But quite frankly, he really doesn’t have any respect for either the government or law enforcement. Ironically though, his very fate depends on his services to Uncle Sam. Should be choose to accept this following assignment (and you know he will, or else Gibbons will make sure that his arse will land in prison), he must travel to Prague and go undercover. His mission: to infiltrate the headquarters of a gang known as “Anarchy 99”, and find out exactly what they are up to.
The ringleader behind Anarchy 99 is Yorgi (Marton Csokas, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring), a proclaimed anarchist who likes to run raves. But do not let that image of him throwing frantic late-night parties fool you; he takes his job as an anarchist very seriously. Yorgi is basically one of those ex-Russian military personnel who consequently became disillusioned with all that is going on after both the Cold War and Communism ended. So with his minions (including his own brother), Yorgi wants to pay back the world. With the help of Russian scientists, Yorgi decides to threaten the world by using the oldest tactic in the manual: bio-terrorism (bet you didn’t see that coming!). The weapon itself (named “Silent Night”) is contained in canisters and will travel on a submarine called the “Ahab”. Cage must thwart Yorgi before he launches his biological doomsday project on an unsuspecting city—and eventually, the planet.
To complicate matters, Cage finds himself romantically involved with Yorgi’s girlfriend, the lovely Yelena (sexy Italian star Asia Argento). But is she really falling for him? Or does she have an agenda of her own?
Okay, I admit, the film’s plot is a strictly connect-the-dots affair. Every major plot twist can easily be portended, especially if you have seen at least a couple of spy thrillers. Some may grouse about the film’s shaky plot, but paradoxically, I think it is a plus. The film doesn’t get bogged down in its plot machinations; it cuts right to the chase. It is also a film stripped of pretensions. Although the plot is neither ingenious nor highly intriguing, it is at least palpable enough to get the action going.
XXXtreme, XXXciting Action…
So does XXX live up to its hype as the ultimate extreme action spectacle? Absolutely, and I can say that with full confidence. Along with Spider-Man and Attack of the Clones, XXX satisfies the true criteria for a mega summer blockbuster. XXX is about wowing the audience, stimulating their senses, and making their hairs stand on their ends. It is an exciting, no-nonsense thrill-ride which delivers more than its fair share of high-octane daredevil stunts. There are more than enough highly charged action scenes to please genre fans, or just those looking for an escape.
One of the film’s best examples of action taken to the extreme occurs prior to Cage’s real mission. Before Xander Cage is “officially” a secret agent working for the government, he must endure another one of the NSA’s “tests”. He is dispatched into Colombia and is captured by a Colombian’s drug lord’s army. Along with two other prisoners, Cage must survive an ordeal that has him confronting “El Jefe” (a cameo appearance by Danny Trejo). Moments later, Cage fights his way out of the clutches of El Jefe, but as he escapes from prison, he lands on the frying pan (quite literally) as much of the Colombian army is on his tail. Cage steals a motorcycle and while straddling on it, Cage leaps over a barbed-wire fence. As the icing on the cake, Cage follows that hot-wired act by riding the motorcycle on a burning building just as it is about to explode. This whole action sequence is adroitly filmed with awesome pyrotechnics and impressive motorcycle stunts. The whole pandemonium feels hotter than Dante’s Inferno.
Fans of extreme sports will drool endlessly at the spectacular stunt sequences. Air boarding is one of the more popular extreme sports, and the audience is treated to a truly magnificent sequence which has Cage performing this breathtaking stunt with deft confidence as soon as he jumps off a plane. It is both adrenaline rushing and visually aesthetic. Excellent aerial photography makes the audience feel as though they are skydiving alongside him.
In spite of the improbability of this happening in real life, my favorite action sequence is basically an outrageous homage to the ski chase seen in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. As Cage is snowboarding down the mountainside, he must not only contend with enemies chasing him on snowmobiles, he must also stay ahead of an incoming avalanche—which he triggered using detonators of some sort. You thought this action sequence looked cool (pardon the pun) in the trailer? It’ll blow you away when you witness it uncensored in the movie. Okay, so what you’ll see in this action sequence does not exactly follow the laws of physics. But do not sweat over something like that, or you will find yourself not basking in the exhilaration. Finally, the climactic action sequence with Cage trying to stop the Ahab from reaching its destination must be seen for yourself.
Even though it is most likely impossible to perform most of these highly dangerous stunts in real life, there is a certain sense of realism in them when seen in this movie. They look very believable thanks to the superb cinematography and the meticulous work of our unsung heroes: the stunt people.
It’s All About the Gadgets...
It wouldn’t be a cool spy thriller without some wicked cool gadgets, and XXX has plenty of them on display. As an obvious homage to the films of James Bond, our badass hero is armed with a wide assortment of gadgets (courtesy of a Q-type tech wiz). Cage has x-ray binoculars which can see through people. He is also given explosives in the guise of band-aids and "soft-kill" bullets which work like tranquilizer darts. He is also given the opportunity to drive a super-cool, modified GTO vehicle which is loaded with rocket launchers, a flamethrower, a parachute, and lots more. While the gadgets themselves lack subtlety, they are a lot of fun to watch.
Characters and The Performances Behind Them
The acting from the cast is more or less...decent. When the best performance in this movie comes from Vin Diesel, you know you are not watching a Shakespearean production. Nevertheless, Vin Diesel did a fairly solid—even convincing—job as Xander Cage, who is aptly described as James Bond with an edge…and a hell of a lot of tattoos. Of course, the role of Xander Cage was written perfectly for Diesel. Diesel thrives at playing this type of character: the heroic anti-hero. It also helps that Diesel has a natural screen presence and bad boy charisma.
First things first, Vin Diesel does need to refine his wisecracking skills a bit. Sometimes he delivers his quips impeccably on cue; other times, he falters when he tries to be funny talking back. During the scene where El Jefe tortures Cage, the latter spouts that the Colombian is short and needs to get a haircut that fits his style. Not only was the timing off, the wisecrack itself wasn’t that funny.
With that said, I think Diesel (as Xander Cage) certainly did a fine job capturing the look and attitude of a more blue-collared action hero. Cage himself is buff, tough, and displays a lot of swagger—and some degree of arrogance. Yet, he doesn’t allow the latter to completely overtake him. Cage walks with an air of confidence, unafraid of anybody and any challenge. Unlike the typical clean-cut, debonair type spy of yesteryear, Cage is someone who can appeal more to the younger generation (and particularly those from the grassroots background). In a way, Cage is a lot like the disaffected youth of today: cynical and rebellious who is not afraid of taking chances in life. But in spite of Cage’s tough attitude, strangely enough, he is a hero anybody can root for. Why? He has a strong work ethic. He’ll do what it takes to get the job done. He’ll risk his life to complete what is asked of him from the government.
Xander Cage is also a man with some moral values (believe it or not). In one scene, Cage catches one of one of Yorgi’s henchmen smoking. Cage warns him that he shouldn’t smoke because smoking will kill him (there’s a funny twist to this near the end). Earlier on, during Cage’s escape from the Colombian drug lord’s prison, Cage decides to risk his own life to save a fellow prisoner whom he hardly knew. Actions like this show that even people like Cage can display acts of nobility when the time calls.
In any case, you cannot deny Xander Cage’s (and Vin Diesel’s) tough-guy looks. I also think what makes him cool is his ability to appeal to both genders. His sex appeal will make females ogle all over him while his swagger and determination to get the job done will win the admiration of guys.
Asia Argento holds her own remarkably well, especially when she shares the screen with Vin Diesel. She and Diesel have some pretty steamy chemistry. You can sense it during their more intimate moments. Some complain though about Diesel’s inability to properly kiss Asia, but I think he did a fairly swell job (though I agree he still has room for improvement). As for Asia, not only does she provide sensual eye candy, she’s a groovy actress too with a foxy look and cunning personality. Unfortunately, her character was developed in a paltry manner, but at least Asia made us care about her.
Yorgi isn’t quite among the more memorable on-screen villains out there, but his malice is adequate enough. In one scene, Yorgi shows his true moral repugnance by locking the Russian scientists in the same room with the biological weapon. Callously, Yorgi unleashes the virus and moments later the scientists die an agonizing death. Overall, I will say his motive for wanting the world to plunge into anarchy is absurd at best. Then again, he’s probably just insane. Marton Csokas is passable as the main villain, but he is not as cool as most of the adversaries James Bond has confronted. As Augustus Gibbons, Samuel L. Jackson is merely average; he isn’t terrible, but he doesn’t exactly chew the scenery either and it seems like he was only in this movie to collect yet another paycheck.
XXX has some truly gorgeous scenery. Much of the film takes place in Prague and there are plenty of authentic location shots of this city. The audience is able to get glimpses of the statues, the buildings’ beatific architecture, and their interiors. There is also a brief scene taking place in an opera house and the architecture looks superlative. The wonderful scenery makes this film a joy to watch even when there isn’t any crazy stunt work taking place. The film’s soundtrack is also definitely great to listen to. It is a mix of hard rock, techno, and trance beats. The music is enough to get your pulse beating rapidly. Some of the contributing musicians include Drowning Pool, DMX, Orbital, and Rammstein, and their music simply rocks on a seismic scale.
Like any enjoyable amusement park ride, I didn’t want this movie to end. I had an immensely great time watching XXX. Director Rob Cohen (The Fast and The Furious) keeps the action moving ferociously fast and the momentum is maintained throughout the movie. Vin Diesel himself is also fun to watch. If Diesel can improve on his acting a little more, I think he has potential to be truly an emblem of the new breed of action hero; the kind who reflects on the ideologies of today’s youth.
As you can tell, this movie is aggressively aimed at a certain demographic age group—the 13-24 year old crowd. And I certainly agree that people in this age group will enjoy XXX the most. I will also say my high rating for XXX will shock some of you. But let me explain: it’s a guilty pleasure. I admit this movie garnered more love from me than it probably deserved. XXX will never be known as a great film in terms of plot or thematic content, but it harkens back to the good old glory days when watching an action movie in the theater with a bag of popcorn was a truly pleasurable experience. Hey, this film delivered what it promised. And for that, I have to extol the filmmakers.
Will this film win any major accolades? Yeah right. Will it make any critics’ Top Ten lists? That’s a stretch. But I guarantee that anyone (yes, including you) will have at least somewhat of a merry good time under two conditions. First, acknowledge (and accept) that this movie is not representative of real life. There is a reason why there’s the phrase, "the fourth wall". Second, let go of all the skepticism you might have in your mind. Hell, let yourself go. Enjoy this film as it is: a cinematic roller coaster that will leave your senses floored.
The only people I really do not recommend this film to though are those stuck-up film geeks who only derive enjoyment from independent “art” films.
It appears James Bond will have some tough competition at hand because there’s a new secret agent in the house—and he’s going to stick around for a while.
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