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XXX (2002) Columbia Pictures
2 hrs. 4 mins.
Starring: Vin Diesel, Samuel L. Jackson, Asia Argento, Marton Csokas, Michael Roof, Richy Muller
Directed by: Rob Cohen


XXX

Rating:

  E-MAIL FRANK OCHIENG

Photo: Columbia Pictures


The marketing reps are having a field day with their catchy slogan regarding the hyped-up, testosterone-driven spy actioner "XXX": "there's a new kind of action hero..." Quite frankly, there's really nothing all that distinctive about the shaven-headed, muscle-bound misfit Xander Cage - the pumped-up protagonist featured in director Rob Cohen's vacuous, velocity-driven spy thriller that supposedly puts a fresher spin on the espionage genre. Granted that some can argue with James Bond's need to file for social security benefits given this movie icon's worn out welcome on the big screen after nearly four decades. But Agent 007 needn't lose any sleep... Xander Cage and his hotshot antics will probably have the cinematic life span of an ice cube on a hot concrete sidewalk. Well, maybe a few sequels here and there. But like most campaigns where the "next big thing" in action movies are practically guaranteed, "XXX" will be a momentary celebration in Eye-popping High Jinks 101 until another thrill-making flick comes along.

Cohen re-teams with his "Fast and the Furious" blockbuster star Vin Diesel (don't forget producer Neal H. Moritz) as they collaborate on what may amount to be an obvious money-making formula, particularly one that is purposely geared toward a giddy young male audience looking for an excuse to coo over the exaggerated gunplay (not to mention the scantly-clad gals that parade around like playmates chilling out in Hugh Hefner's expansive backyard swimming pool). No doubt "XXX" will secure its intended audience as the film caters to the whims of an insufferable, show-offy conventional summertime vehicle that proudly embraces its loud, witless and posturing platitudes.

So who's the real winner behind this overwrought and self-indulgent spy spoof? Maybe it's Cohen in his attempt to duplicate the box office bounce of his flaccid fuel-injected hit "Fast and the Furious" from last summer? Or maybe it's Diesel, the flashy monosyllabic rogue who finally inherits his very own explosive playground where he gets to play an outlawish secret agent in a banal and boisterous spy actioner? The winner certainly won't be the various well-informed demographics who are clever enough to realize what a desperately dumb premise this boneheaded blow 'em-up spectacle really is. Yes, the appeal to this highly-charged popcorn pleaser is the ultra cool brawny Diesel and his high-wire exploits. The very suggestion of expecting a halfway decent plot with an intriguing script to support the mind-blowing mayhem must be quite a blasphemous expectation indeed.

Diesel's Xander Cage is the epitome of the hotheaded daredevil filled with a sense of overflowing vanity. His cockiness is quite evident given the nature of his trade: being a former extreme sports athlete. There hasn't been a stunt that Cage didn't find challenging. Among his "legendary" rushes included him stealing a California state senator's convertible Corvette in an attempt to ride the vehicle off the bridge and have it crash below just as he parachutes to safety. Cage, to say the least, is one crazy son-of-a-gun. Basically, the films goes on to demonstrate Cage's swagger and the point is bluntly pounded over the audience's head--watch out for this crazed individual because nothing can phase this fearless, warped warrior.

Apparently there are two main folks that are impressed and in awe of Cage's death-defying abilities. Naturally, Cage is ONE of those people. The other is Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson), a NSA bigwig who alertly recruits the resilient Cage to come and work on a dangerous covert mission for his agency. Gibbons is astute enough to realize that Cage's skillful athletic prowess to confront tricky obstacles would be handy whereas the conventional secret agent might be outmatched and outwitted physically and mentally. Besides, should the reckless Cage succumb to his own needless fate, then it's no big loss. After all, the newest and unorthodox agent could be deemed expendable. In Gibbons's mind, the unruly and overly self-assured Cage is worth the gamble in an effort to tackle the agency's pending mission.

As expected, the ruthless aggression of Cage is put to the test via some combat-oriented exercises where the defiant one is forced to comply with his survival instincts. After ducking and dodging rocket-equipped helicopters and performing ballet-like moves on a motocross bike in mid air, Cage is shipped off to Prague in preparation for his high-powered assignment. His objective: to snuggle up to a couple of ominous Russians named Yorgi (Marton Csokas) and Yelena (Asia Argento) looking to cause major havoc on an unsuspecting world.

Cage doesn't hesitate in strutting his stuff around the Czech Republic in a flamboyant, I-don't-give-a-damn fashion. Cozied up in a fancy woolen jacket with money to spend like there's no tomorrow, the do-or-die wily novice spy soon finds himself surrounded by suped-up hot rod cars and equally revved-up babes willing to make the clean-pated double agent feel real good. Cage eventually infiltrates a techo-rave session in hopes of finding out the latest scheme hatched by the treacherous Yorgi. And the yummy-looking Yelena is the temptation that Cage seriously craves, much like one of those frenetic fun-filled stunts that he prepares for with perverse pleasure.

There's not much to dismiss in "XXX" from a thrill-seeking point of view. Dean Semler's mouthwatering cinematography is extremely instrumental in bringing to life the brilliant fetching sequences that promote a jazzy sensation to the proceedings. In one such scene, there's a remarkable avalanche/snowboarding event that simply registers on the visual senses. The film does have a manic and aesthetic opulence to it that one cannot deny. With the ingredients of guns, girls and gumption, how can a mindless and ballistic farce like "XXX" disappoint? Armed with a potent soundtrack and willing bad boy bravado put forth by lead studmuffin Diesel, this movie pours it on thick in a glorious, tongue-waging manner.

No one questions Diesel's charismatic chops, especially when he has demonstrated his star-making presence in such notable dramas as "Boiler Room" and "Saving Private Ryan". Here, the actor seems as if he's going through great lengths in trying to over-emphasize the flowing hipness of Xander Cage. There's an unexplainable eagerness that literally screams "look at me-- am I something else or what?" Diesel gives off more of a pompous vibe than he does a pragmatic one. Argento is satisfying as the alluring villainess. Unfortunately for both Jackson and Csokas, they act as if they're grateful for the otherwise thankless arbitrary parts that were handed them. They both take a backseat to the meaty aura of Diesel and rightfully so. But still their supporting gig should account for something in this high-octane albeit spiritless rollercoaster ride.

"XXX" is a skin flick of a different sort. Sure, it will gladly show you its raucous, desirable flesh for all to cherish. But underneath, the convoluted bones of imagination are too brittle to realize. Regardless of how many X's there are in this movie's title, it doesn't manage to completely mark the spot.

Click here to comment on this review or post your own thoughts.

Frank Ochieng
TheWorldJournal.com




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