xXx (2002) / Action-Thriller

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, sensuality, drug content and language
Running Time: 124 min.

Cast: Vin Diesel, Samuel L. Jackson, Asia Argento, Marton Csokas, Joe Bucaro III
Director:
Rob Cohen
Screenplay: Rich Wilkes
Review published August 9, 2002

It would seem paradoxical that Vin Diesel gains popularity as his movies get worse.  Starting off with his small role in the excellent Saving Private Ryan, then the voice of the Iron Giant in the very good The Iron Giant, a supporting role in the good flick Boiler Room, finally co-starring in the fun schlock film Pitch Black, and he soars in popularity but is still the co-star in the so-so action film The Fast and the FuriousXXX marks Diesel's first chance to be the out-and-out star, and if you haven't guessed by the train of thought from the last sentence, the higher the Diesel, the higher the crap quotient.   Now that the careers of Bronson, Stallone, Van Damme, and Seagal are pretty much over, there has been a void in the lowbrow action genre...that is until now.  Ladies and gentlemen, the new king of bad action cinema for the new millennium has finally emerged, stinking up a theater near you soon.

Diesel stars as Xander Cage, the kind of name no one has in real life but everyone has if they are a bad-ass movie character.  Xander's nick is "XXX", who has gained notoriety and the love of everyone who watches the X-Games on ESPN2 through his daredevil acts in extreme sports of all kinds.  He pushes his stunts to the limit each time and eludes the law at every turn, a folk-hero for the underground skater/boarder scene everywhere.  This makes him attractive to those who need to use his street-smart skills, and he is forced into a life as a secret agent by another bad-ass, an NSA agent named Augustus Gibbons (Jackson, Attack of the Clones), who sees Xander's abilities and tough guy attitude as essential for gaining the trust in the street while infiltrating an underground crime operation in Prague.  His goal is to just gather information as to what's going on, but finds himself getting more involved as he falls for the crime boss' girlfriend and discovers a plot to destroy the world.

Granted, one isn't necessarily expecting a great film from the director and star of The Fast and the Furious, so the best we could hope for is to achieve the same level of mindless popcorn entertainment in XXX.  However, too much emphasis was placed on the "mindless" aspect, which is apropos considering screenwriter Rich Wilkes' previous claims to scripting fame were Airheads and The Jerky Boys.  There is no character development, a laughable plot, some bad one-liners for Diesel, and not a conversation in the entire film that smacked of originality. 

Ah, but who cares about good writing when it's action that is the real reason to catch XXX right?  If action and explosions are all you are looking for, then XXX does deliver the goods, but the delivery comes too often and doesn't know when to quit.  Cars don't just crash, they explode...as does every boat, motorcycle and lawnmower in the film.  It seems there isn't a single piece of machinery that doesn't have TNT strapped onto it for the entire movie, and in XXX's 2 hour running time, probably half of the time is devoted to explosions, fires, and other catastrophic events for our eye-candy viewing pleasure.

For those scenes that don't offer explosions, XXX delivers more "entertainment" in the form of unrelenting noise.  Bad hip hop, techno and hard rock permeate the soundtrack regardless of location...the United States, Prague, up in the mountains or going down a river.  There is so much loud music and noise everywhere, it's no wonder Sam Jackson feels the need to attend an opera during one key scene, just to get away from all the ear pollution, and even then it isn't particularly pleasant or peaceful.

XXX is an overlong, overblown and underdeveloped mess in almost every respect...hyper-kinetic pyrotechnic masturbation formulated to dumb the mind and numb the senses without mercy.  It's a film so damaging, Vin Diesel may never be able to shake the typecast, and unfortunately this also means a decade of films just like it are already in the works.  Based on Diesel's devolving track record so far, I shudder to think how bad his movies will get before the end of it because it's already hard to imagine it getting much worse. 

The name may be XXX, but you'll walk out of the theater asking YYY??!!!.

-- Followed by a sequel, xXx: State of the Union.

Qwipster's rating:

2002 Vince Leo