Amazing action cannot offset poor plot in xXx

Aug. 19, 2002, midnight | By Zach Mellman | 21 years, 10 months ago

Rob Cohen's latest thriller, xXx, depicts Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) as a double agent who uses high tech gadgets to blow up Russian terrorists as he "gets the girl."

If you think this has been done before, then you're right. James Bond's tuxedo and suave English accent may be gone, but not much else is.

Cohen's last film, The Fast and the Furious, was similar to xXx, but instead of Diesel drag racing cars as he did in the previous film, he parachutes from a stolen one at the start of xXx for his underground daredevil website.

In the style of Bond movies, the action is fast-paced. The National Security Agency (NSA) has lost many agents trying unsuccessfully to gather intelligence about Anarchy 99, a terrorist organization comprised of grim members of the former Russian army who are sick of government lies and set on destroying good chunks of the world. One of the NSA agents, who is purposely reminiscent of James Bond, is killed in his tux at the concert of an anarchic band, a suggestion that that type of spy is "dead."

Along with Diesel's deep voice, large muscles and tattoos, his lack of dramatic capabilities rivals that of Shaquille O'Neal, star of such less-than-stellar films as Kazaam and Steel.

The NSA's leader, Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson), decides to use known criminals for espionage. He tells Cage that the X-X-X tattoo on his neck symbolizes the three strikes against him, and makes Cage an offer he can't refuse: help the NSA get information on Anarchy 99 or go to jail for the rest of your life.

Quite like Sean Connery's character in The Rock (and countless other films), Cage goes from bad guy to protagonist in order to get out of jail time and, oh, save a few million people as a fringe benefit.

Before he can fight the anarchists, Cage must prove his intelligence and brawn at a bizarre NSA-sponsored boot-camp. Here we get our first taste of Rob Cohen's almost insatiable love of explosives; Cage successfully fights both Columbian drug lords and the Columbian army while riding a motorcycle and saving a colleague, in a random and unnecessarily lengthy scene.

Passing this test, Cage is shipped to Prague to infiltrate Anarchy 99, which is run by Yorgi (Marton Csokas), whose sadistic mind and "Euro-trashness" make him the obvious villain. This brings up the unanswered question of why the NSA should have had anything to do with stopping Anarchy 99. Perhaps James Bond really is dead.

Cage predictably falls in love with Yorgi's girlfriend Yelena (Asia Argento), who of course has mixed allegiances herself. Together, they try to stop Yorgi's weapon of mass destruction using a 1967 GTO loaded up with (of course) Bond-like gadgets.

Cohen tried to make xXx a realistic film, but the movie seems to spoof spy films rather than be one. Instead of spending millions on explosions, Columbia pictures and producer Neal H. Moritz should have used the money to write a decent dialogue and an original plot.

What saves this movie from being a complete waste of time are the stunts, which include Cage surfing down a banister on a serving tray and snowboarding just feet ahead of a tremendous avalanche. The cinematography and special effects are stunning. Indeed, if we leave our collective brains at the door, we might have fun watching xXx based on its explosions alone.

Official site:

xXx, 115 min., Columbia Pictures, is rated PG-13 for violence, sexual situations, and profanity and is playing in theatres everywhere.

Tags: print

Zach Mellman. Zach Mellman was born on October 18, 1956 (he was held back once or twice). He has lived in Takoma Park, Maryland his entire life. He is currently a senior at Blair enrolled in honors classes. He is also a member of Blair's golf team, … More »

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