xXx (2002)
xXx (2002)

Genre: Action and Spy Running Time: 2 hrs. 4 min.

Release Date: August 9th, 2002 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Rob Cohen Actors: Vin Diesel, Asia Argento, Marton Csokas, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Roof, Richy Muller, Werner Daehn, Danny Trejo, Thomas Ian Griffith, Leila Arcieri, Eve, William Hope

 


 

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he opening title logo, intended to designate the title of “xXx,” actually has four X’s on it, marking this as one of the most incompetent of all action movie graphics. It hardly matters though, as this segues to a heavy metal concert with shirtless punks, ludicrous pyrotechnics, poor use of slow-motion, and a lot of labored, evil grimaces. It also has a secret agent-type character rip away his ninja outfit to reveal a fresh tuxedo – which could have been an homage to James Bond, if it weren’t done so pitifully.

Later, NSA Agent Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) is called in to advise the U.S. government, which has lost numerous recruits to the deadly wiles of the ex-military terrorist group Anarchy 99, which is itself currently negotiating to purchase a super powerful biochemical weapon. The criminal organization, led by Yorgi (Marton Csokas) and his gal Yelena (Asia Argento), has been able to ferret out every undercover secret agent because they’re not crazy or ruthless enough to fit in. So Gibbons’ suggests that they dig through the prison system to uncover a genuine crook (or the scum of the earth) – one who is expendable, malleable, and easy to coerce.

A prime candidate presents himself in the form of Xander Cage (Vin Diesel), a daredevil vigilante who makes videos to get back at the establishment (one involves stealing a California senator’s Corvette and then driving it into a canyon). To make sure Gibbons is qualified for top secret tasks, he’s kidnapped by a black ops team (who surprise Xander at his celebration party by crashing in through the windows and tranquilizing him) and placed in a series of trials – starting with a diner stick-up that is foreseeably staged by government employees, before graduating to an exercise in Columbia involving real cocaine plantation goons and machine-guns. This second mission isn’t just a mere test; people could have died, though the only casualties end up being gangsters.

“Maybe you oughta call yourself Triple-X.” If it weren’t bad enough that Xander is unrealistically smarter than all the other suits (like a Sherlock Holmes of sorts) and that the obnoxious tattoo on the back of his neck comes and goes at random, his dialogue is ridiculous and he never behaves like he’s in any genuine danger. Supporting characters’ remarks are even worse (during a party scene, an oversized gorilla spouts the line, “Bitches, come!” when a prior business dealing is concluded). In fact, the witty insults and jibes are occasionally so bad that writer Rich Wilkes must have thought he was scripting a full-blown spoof.

That wouldn’t be so problematic, except that Xander is immersed in the dangerous underworld of a Czech crime syndicate, filled with supposedly murderous brutes. But when the violence is nearly non-existent and the body count is pathetically low, it’s difficult to be thrilled by the exploits. And the way the picture is edited together, the focus seems to be more about huge club parties (riddled with slutty prostitutes) rather than espionage and adventure (at one point, a nightclub party transitions into a private mansion party). Hysterically, Xander’s sole sex scene is with a casual, nameless hooker who only gets enough screentime to do a seductive dance before crawling into bed.

A few of the stunts are relatively amusing – starting off with a sky-scraping bridge jump – but they lose their luster when they’re replayed half-a-dozen times from different angles so that the audience won’t miss the audacity of it all (as if a sports game feat on television). This, of course, is also when it becomes most evident that Diesel didn’t do very many of his own stunts. But for every action sequence, there are shots dedicated to formulaic rips of the already tired spy subgenre (including a Q-equivalent [played by Michael Roof] and a mad-scientist scheme with world-dominating intentions). At its best, “xXx” feels like one of the poorer episodes of 007. But at its worst, it features ideas fit for a purposeful parody – such as x-ray goggles that can see through a woman’s blouse, but not her bra. Fortunately, the movie is so colossally stupid that it’s good for some laughs – all of which are the unintentional kind (though this makes some of them belly-laughs). “What do I know? I’ve been an agent for a week.”

– Mike Massie

  • 3/10