xXx

xXx is louder than a rock concert on an airplane runway and flashier than five Jerry Bruckheimer movies put together. And if your brain isn’t waving the white flag by the time the end credits roll, it will realize that it’s just borne witness to one of the trashiest, most hyperactive kitchen-sink action movies in years.

Those are all compliments, mind you.

It has become incredibly annoying to watch movies advertised as hard-core actioners straining for some intensely profound dramatic moment. This summer, we’ve seen Ben Affleck shed laughably unconvincing tears in The Sum of All Fears. And in Bruckheimer’s Bad Company, it was embarrassing to watch comedian Chris Rock bumble his way through that film’s drearily cheesy romance.

xXx happily wallows in the fact that it’s 100-percent loopy, kinetic and silly. Bulky star Vin Diesel manhandles the bad guys and pulls off physics-busting stunts that would put the Flying Wallendas to shame. Simply put, that’s all we get from xXx and it’s enough to be wildly entertaining.

Diesel plays Xander “xXx” Cage, so nicknamed for the three “X”’s tattooed on his neck. Cage is an extreme sports ne’er-do-well who, in the opening minutes, jacks a senator’s sports car, launches it off a bridge and parachutes away from the auto shortly before it explodes. Like a Robin Hood for the X-Games set, Cage does all this to protest the senator’s seeming support of censorship.

This time, though, Cage pushes the limits of his freedom too far and is nabbed by the authorities. But National Security Agent Augustus Gibbons gives Cage one chance for an out before being sent to the pokey. He is looking for someone expendable to infiltrate Anarchy 99, a group of army men who have eschewed Mother Russia for a big-money crime syndicate.

In exchange for a pardon, Cage agrees to the assignment. Cage and head bad guy Yorgi (Martin Csokas) hit it off due to their shared love for extreme sports. But Cage soon discovers that Yorgi’s got chemical weapons and the urge to use them. Now this self-centered sports stud must – let’s all say it together – save the world from certain destruction.

Director Rob Cohen steers very clear of pithy mid-movie melodrama that temporarily brought down the fun in The Fast and the Furious, his surprise hit from summer 2001 that also starred Diesel. And he also shows that he’s one of the rare directors who, when granted a bigger budget, can put every dollar of it up on the screen.

xXx is filled with grandiose action sequences, and none of them looks cheap. It’s neat enough to watch Cage be chased down a snowy mountain by henchmen on snowmobiles. But then he decides to cause an avalanche. And the aforementioned bridge-jump is fun to watch, even if Cohen is a little too in love with covering it from 30 different angles. If there is any problem, it’s that Cohen trots out his finest action show pony before the film’s halfway point.

Before Cage is sent undercover, he’s sent on a little training mission … to a Colombian cocaine factory. Over the top can’t even begin to describe this sequence, which pits Cage versus Colombian army helicopters, rockets, well-armed drug dealers and a very tall barbed-wire fence. Imagine the helicopter attack sequence from Apocalypse Now by way of a video game rated “T” for Teen. But Cohen’s execution is spotless; without question, it’s one of the coolest action scenes in years.

Equally cool is Diesel, for whom this movie is a vehicle to usher him in as the next big action star. Aside from the speedy cars, Diesel’s enlivened performance was the best thing about The Fast and the Furious. Here, he works even harder, and the results are better. Burly and surly, Diesel muscles his way through the material, creating an interesting, albeit simplistic, character.

Although none of them are fatal, the movie does have flaws that must be pointed out. It’s hard to imagine screen kisses less convincing than those shared by Diesel and Asia Argento, who plays Yorgi’s femme fatale girlfriend. Although Rich Wilkes’ screenplay would like us to believe otherwise, the chemistry between these two is nonexistent. And while Csokas has that look you would expect from a psychotic Russian expatriate, he just doesn’t seem like a chemical weapon-wielding madman. He’s like a Russian P. Diddy, more at home having parties with barely clad women at fully armed mansions.

Despite these problems, xXx is aggressively fun. It’s got plenty of ironic humor, visual flair and some of the best action-movie build-up since The Rock. In the end, Diesel and Cohen abide by the most basic of rules – keep it simple, stupid – and deliver nothing more than a tasty piece of mean and lean eye candy.



An award-winning film critic and features reporter, Nick has professionally written or gabbed about movies for Illinois newspapers, national syndicates, Playboy, The Art Immortal, The Film Yap and Midwest radio stations. He once drummed in a Billy Joel cover band known as Silly Joel and freely presents his Letterboxd page to engage and mock if you wish: https://letterboxd.com/ragekage79/


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