DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
XXX (director: Rob Cohen; screenwriter: Rich Wilkes; cinematographer: Dean Semler; editors: Paul Rubel/Chris Lebenzon; music: DMX; cast: Vin Diesel (Xander Cage), Samuel L. Jackson (NSA Agent Gibbons), Asia Argento (Yelena),  Marton Csokas (Yorgi),  Joe Bucaro (Virg), TeeJay Boyce (Janelle); Runtime: 112; producer: Neal H. Mortiz; Columbia Pictures; 2002)

 
"As subtle as an elephant waltzing around in a Czech Republic disco."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The heaviest messages attempted by the director of XXX, Rob Cohen, is to say that smoking kills and that if the brain dead youth didn't have their loud rap music and PlayStation video games (a not too subtle advertisement for the Sony product) where else could they learn something! A wall-to-wall covered adrenalin action-spoof spectacle results with some really forgettable dialogue, rote acting from the hero and especially the villains, and a script that could have been drawn in picture form by using crayons and have been just as literate as the final one presented. The film's main purpose is seemingly to become a business enterprise like the James Bond films it pays homage to. It reunites star and director from their last such box office smash and anti-intellectual venture, "The Fast and the Furious." XXX is an irreverent take on the icon it worships --  007. In addition, it sure does itself proud by promoting both the pop-culture and the extreme-sports scenes. That is where not only its antisocial hero comes from but, perhaps, the film's hardcore fan base mostly likely also does.

The red herring disguised as the plotline is about an anarchist gang made up of ex-Soviet disgruntled military personnel, scum, snakes, and dangerous criminals from the Russian mafia, who formed in 1999 after the fall of Communism and are not satisfied with their usual criminal activities of theft and their lifestyle of orgies (which are tame in this movie because getting a PG-13 rating is far more important than showing off your anarchist spirit or any nudity). The gang is maneuvering to get WW111 on the way through their use of a biochemical-dispensing submarine, named Ahab for some unknown reason, to be launched in Prague. The plan is to secretly detonate cities around the world and have them go to war with each other. But that setup is just an excuse for this to be a dumb-assed fun film about loud music, men prancing around with tattoos all over their body, stunt men and a pyrotechnical crew around to experiment with the latest in daredevil feats, and for a showcase to display the latest in the world of gun fashion. It all makes for escapist fare evocative of the Hollywood tradition of the pics like "The Dirty Dozen" showing the bad guy with the attitude problem who is recruited to be on the good guy's side and comes through with flying colors. What's there to think about in this film? It's about as subtle as an elephant waltzing around in a Czech Republic disco. Or, as meaningless as playing the easily recognizable zither musical score from "The Third Man" that comes into play when first in Prague, which is only done to cleverly allude to that classic thriller and not to make any other point.

Vin Diesel has found his niché in films as a gruff speaking muscular covered with body tattoos kind of good-guy outlaw, who slurs his words and has about as much charm as a greaser wolfing down a dozen burgers in a White Castle. Diesel also comes dressed with a logo advertising the film on the back of his neck, where he sports a triple X tattoo. He's named Xander Cage, but is called X by his thrill-seeking buddies. The one-liner maven and ego-maniacal performance artist and rogue skateboarder is made famous by having his exploits shown on the Web. He snubs his nose at the Establishment and in the film's opening scene steals a prudish senator's shiny red Corvette all because the California pol wanted to ban music with violent lyrics. He then crashes the convertible off a bridge into the water while he parachutes to safety, ala a Bond stunt but done in a crass way that lacks political insight. This bad deed gets the attention of an NSA spy agent bureau chief in Virginia, Gibbons (Jackson), to recruit X for his next dangerous mission. The reasoning being: why send a mouse into a den of snakes, when you can send another snake in. Gibbons, who can easily be recognized by his kind of tattoo -- a scarred half of his face, puts X to the extreme test by shooting him with a knockout dart and then having him placed in a diner where he's attacked by agents disguised as terrorists. X has no problem dealing with this exercise. On another test he's dropped off in the middle of a Colombian cocaine field and has to fight his way out of there, as it takes him a long time to realize that he's now in a real situation.

Since Diesel passed these tests, he's obviously qualified to be dropped off in Prague as a full-fledged spy (in this flick there's no problem learning the spy business while on the job). Diesel's Czech Secret Service contact will get him to the local bar where the Anarchist 99 leader Yorgi (Marton Csokas) hangs out. X fits right into this fast crowd of psychopaths and social deviants, and gets in solid with them by ordering 10 hot sports cars for them to steal. Also hot is Yorgi's mysterious sexy right-hand woman, Yelena (Asia Argento), who has the same type of unfriendly personality as X (which means that this is a match made for a Prague Castle, the isolated mountain homebase for Yorgi and company). Their eventual affair, a tepid one at best, after a bad start is about as exciting as watching heads gets smashed against a wall. X does kiss the lady twice, which had about as much of a romantic touch as the music of DMX and the German band Rammstein. But he can be excused for his lack of interest, he was just too busy saving the world -- even though he wasn't a patriot.

X completes his mission to save the world by infiltrating the gang and getting the info of what terrorism they are planning. He relays this by computer to Gibbons, and insists on staying put until he stops the anarchists. So we are led to believe he also stops looking out only for himself and strives to single-handedly save the world by stopping the high-powered explosive submarine from beginning its worldwide attacks, in of all places landlocked Prague.

This film should appeal to young fans of video games and older thrill-seekers and fans of extreme sports. The film's appeal should also go out to adults with troubled teenager children, as they might pretend to like XXX in order to bond with them. Others seeking some Dog Days of summer excitement, might be better off going to their local amusement park and taking a roller coaster ride. Still others in trouble with the law might be advised from taking any drug tests after seeing the film, since it's possible to get a contact high from just watching all the speed. But if you're a James Bond fan and want to see a different twist on that old-school series, one with a little looser interpretation of the spy genre, this film is probably just as credible and as well-packaged as most of those Bond films. I liked this new type of spy film for what it was, an unapologetic kick-ass film, and not because I liked it. The action speaks louder than its words, in fact one may wonder -- what words!

REVIEWED ON 8/16/2002     GRADE: C

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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