review by Elias Savada, 9 August 2002

It’s a shame that Vin Diesel, cinema's new millennium Rambo, has selected such an under-written feature for his latest, breakthrough role. Oh, there's no doubt XXX, a.k.a. Triple-X, will open stronger than it deserves, but the heavily-tattooed, head-shaved macho star, reuniting with his blockbuster The Fast and the Furious director Rob Cohen and producer Neal H. Moritz, may be hard-pressed for X4 unless they improve on the cheesy script by Ron Wilkes (Airheads, The Stoned Age). It's clear that the film is merely an evolutionary sidestep for Diesel, who basically has played the same character from one film to the next. As the X-generation's new celebrity anti-hero, I couldn't help but wonder why, why, why, despite all the snap, crackle, and brimstone of this stunt-driven, gadget-laden spy vehicle, that XXX eventually left me ZZZ. There's really nothing new; the same muscular, sarcastic package wrapped in a slightly bigger budget. Mix in a massive advertising campaign and you're guaranteed a opening weekend hit. Large DVD sales follow.

As Xander Cage, Diesel gives a committed, non-nuanced performance (Hey, this isn't Hamlet) as an outspoken, web-based, counter-culture icon for the politically-dissed. His daylight hijacking of a right-wing California senator's red Corvette, quickly equipped by his band of merry pranksters with several crash-resistant video cameras, is webcast as an obviously well-planned stunt to shame the snobbish politico for his old-wing stand on skateboarding and rock music. Apparently this too-quickly-edited-to-be-believed Internet footage catches the one good eye of experienced National Security Agency agent Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson, looking very odd with a close-cropped perm and disfigured face). As his latest tuxedoed James Bond look-alike has just taken a fatal fling into a Czech Republic mosh pit, he hatches a cockamamie idea to secretly recruit programmable and expendable scum of the earth as a new breed of super-agent. Shows you how desperate our Federal government is these days. Okay, Xander is a quick learner, keen observer, and works well under pressure, but please!

Having successfully guessed who's behind door number one, he gets dumped into a Colombian cocaine field in a live demonstration of WWIII, successfully butts up against a menacing, machete-wielding drug lord (a short-lived role for Danny Trejo), then Evel Knievels over a scary-looking, twenty-foot-high barbed-wire fence and a flaming building in a single bound. Not one scratch or broken bone. Huh?

The price is right for Xander, with Cage offering him a get-out-of-jail-free card and an all-expenses-paid and (presumably) round-trip ticket to scenic Prague, therein to infiltrate Anarchy 99. This is a well-financed, well-armed group of now long-haired and heavily hip ex-Russian militia men commanded by Yorgi (Marton Csokas) and his cynical sidekick Yelena (Asia Argento, daughter of Italian horror-meister Dario Argento). Of course, quicker than you can say "Czech Secret Police", XXX manages the removal of a diminutive rat of a policeman (Richy Müller doing a good imitation of a disheveled Roman Polanski) and a quick infiltration into the gang. The rest of the film wanders into high-octane car chases, extreme snowboarding under avalanche-induced conditions, a stately castle shoot-out, and a nasty bio-chemical weapon entitled "Silent Night", which Yorgi wants to deliver to an ill-fated world as an early Christmas present.

Along for a funny side trip is stand-up comic-turned-actor Michael Roof (Black Hawk Down) as Toby Lee Shavers, a savvy, sweater-clad techo-nerd (think Q, the Younger) who outfits Cage and his dark blue 1967 GTO with a dazzling array gizmos and advanced weaponry, including multi-vision-mode binoculars, a next generation dart-filled revolver, and a handy-dandy harpoon gun, just the doodad you'd expect in such older model cars. (It probably wouldn't pass a California emissions test.) Shavers, reminiscent of the character played by Tom Arnold in True Lies, is actually quite an affable personality I'd like to see expanded, if (more likely, when) a sequel enters production.

Meanwhile, Jackson's character just stumbles in and out of the action, with one absolutely ridiculous rendezvous with Cage midway into the European arena setting. Sitting alone, seventh row, center, in Prague's sumptuous State Opera, Gibbons tosses some negative psychology at his recruit as he is regaled to a full dress rehearsal of Mozart's Don Giovanni. With the planet at death's door, the puppet-master decides to take an opera break? Our tax dollars at work, apparently, and quite a per diem allowance!

But it's Diesel's movie to carry and Cohen's role to entertain with an broad array of smoke and mirrors. Their fans will lap it up, partying along with the rest of the Russian thugs in the cast and their lingerie-loving women. Among the things Cage does for his country is bed (off screen) one such Victoria Secret, who entertains our anti-hero among of roomful of perfectly lit candles, all seemingly ignited at the same time. By whom? The butler? It's just another moment that, when the action slows to allow for a toss-away piece of dialogue, you realize this setting shouldn't even exist in such a reelistic world.

XXX's supercharged action figure mode is bound to muscle its way to the top of the box office heap, but, like Cage's wool-covered garment, there's a whole lotta fleecing going on scriptwise. Beyond the extreme visual eye and ear candy supplied by cinematographer Dean Semler, a host of effects personnel, and composer Randy Edelman, XXX dissolves into a nonrealistic mess.

Directed by:
Rob Cohen

Vin Diesel
Asia Argento
Marton Csokas
Samuel L. Jackson
Danny Trejo
Michael Roof
Richy MüllerWerner Daehn
Tom Everett

Written by:
Rich Wilkes

R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires parent
or adult guardian





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