Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Movie Review: xXx (2002)


A spy thriller, xXx is over the top in everything it does, and proud of it.

Xander Cage, to Czech police officer: You have a bazooka! Dude, stop thinking Prague Police and start thinking Playstation. Blow shit up!

Adventure seeker and borderline outlaw Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) is reluctantly recruited by Agent Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) of the National Security Agency to gather information about mobsters operating out of Eastern Europe and dabbling in biological weapons. Xander travels to Prague, where he connects with criminal mastermind Yorgi (Marton Csokas), who is running a violent gang called Anarchy 99 made up of ex-Soviet military types.

Gibbons: I want you to meet some people and find out whatever you can about them.
Xander Cage: What kind of people?
Gibbons: Dirty. Dangerous. Tattooed. Uncivilized. Your kind of people.

Xander gradually gains Yorgi's confidence, and also meets Yelena (Asia Argento), who looks after the gang's finances. Xander uncovers a deadly plot involving the release of biological weapons to instigate global chaos, and also realizes that Yelena is harbouring her own secrets.

Yelena: I've been undercover here for two years.
Xander: Two years? What was your plan? To let them die of old age?

Directed by Ron Cohen, xXx grabs hold of the James Bond formula, dumbs it down, turns up the volume, and jacks up the jaw-dropping stunts. Remarkably, the film actually works, as long as it is accepted for what it is. This is a hyperkinetic action film with just enough plot, villainy and wisecracks to sustain itself. The film is marginally overlong at over two hours, but room had to be found for just one more stunt, and then one more after that. Unfortunately, stuntman Harry O'Connor lost his life performing one of the more dangerous stunts.

Xander Cage: You're okay, Yorgi
Yorgi: Everything's okay... with enough vodka.

Xander Cage is a protagonist plucked from the world of extreme sports and plonked into the spy milieu, and is therefore given license to occasionally wink at the rampant absurdity of his mission and play by no rules at all. Vin Diesel is the furthest thing from a smooth operator, and so is perfectly suited to barge into the world of murderous anarchists intent on resetting civilization.

The elements borrowed from 007 are on full display. The theme music, when it takes a break from heavy metal, tickles the classic John Barry composition. Xander is given some gadgets to play with, including binoculars that see through walls - and clothes. And the stunts take Bond's typical outlandish escapades and turn the knob to eleven. Every conceivable motorized machine is featured, on land, on water, off bridges and on ski slopes, and more often than not the stunts in xXx exist for their own purpose, and the film does not pretend otherwise.

Yelena: I want immunity from prosecution, asylum in the U.S., and citizenship.
Xander Cage: How bout a condo in South Beach and a rich boyfriend?
Yelena: Those I can get for myself.

Of course Xander extends his superhuman physical abilities into irresistible sex appeal. That xXx pauses enough for some scenes of dialogue between Xander and the initially enigmatic Yelena is a bonus, and she emerges as a more rounded-than-expected character with a hidden but easy-to-guess agenda. Samuel L. Jackson lends some weight to the film through his well-suited Gibbons.

Loud, hectic and incessant, xXx is James Bond for adrenaline junkies.






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