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XXX

Posted on

Vin Diesel, XXX

XXX

type:
Movie
Current Status:
In Season
mpaa:
PG-13
runtime:
124 minutes
Wide Release Date:
08/09/02
performer:
Asia Argento, Vin Diesel, Samuel L. Jackson, TeeJay Boyce, Joe Bucaro III, Marton Csokas, Eve, Tony Hawk
director:
Rob Cohen
distributor:
Columbia Pictures
author:
Rich Wilkes
genre:
ActionAdventure, Mystery and Thriller

We gave it a D

Xander Cage, the bedpan-headed spy who couldn’t care less about saving the world in XXX, and Vin Diesel, the dialogue-challenged actor who couldn’t care more about becoming a star, are being promoted, respectively, as a new kind of Hollywood action figure and a new kind of Hollywood player. Cage — nicknamed Triple X for the Roseanne-size design tattooed across the back of his Jesse Ventura-size neck — is a crud kicker with a death wish before he’s recruited under duress to serve his country; he’s an up-yours blowhard who uses his prowess at extreme sports like snowboarding, parachuting, motorcycle racing, and head-butting for the betterment of nothing much. Such lawlessness lands him in the slammer. This brings him to the attention of a cynical NSA SOB (Samuel L. Jackson, signaling show-me-the-money rather than show-me-the-Oscar), who recruits the dead-eyed daredevil precisely because, if things don’t work out, this lug is eminently expendable.

It doesn’t matter in the least what Cage is assigned to accomplish in this grinding movie — let’s just say it has something to do with keeping mad, unwashed, Eastern European anarchists with access to weapons of bioterrorism from world domination and destruction. (Let’s pause to add that the spy meets his romantic match in a skinny, skeevy, pouty Eastern European anarchist’s moll played with an air of irritability by Asia Argento. And that watching the two lip-lock is not a selling point.)

What matters is that this guy called X — snarling, sweating, preening, and grunting his way through life like a Neanderthal who hasn’t discovered how to hold a knife and fork but who has mastered all the expensive playthings in a Hammacher Schlemmer catalog — is being hailed as a new paradigm of young person’s audience-pleaser. (Bonus as a role model: He’s vociferously antismoking.) And that Diesel — whose range of expression pushes Sylvester Stallone up closer to John Gielgud on the evolutionary scale of thespians — is being courted as a catch, a brand to invest in.

People! People, wake up before it’s too late! Don’t you see? Triple-X/Vin Diesel is a golem, an automaton, a man of clay! Run, run for your lives! It didn’t have to be this way. Diesel has kicked at doors with his steel-toed boots for a while; he found focus but not enough fame in the cool, out-there sci-fi thriller ”Pitch Black” two years ago. Then last summer, the actor broke through in ”The Fast and the Furious.” That happy hunk o’ junk directed, as is ”XXX,” by Rob Cohen was a blast of gas and nitrous oxide precisely because it was such a low-rider production. Boys dressed like gang members and showed off some fancy drag-racing moves; girls dressed like sluts and showed off their fancy booties. Diesel growled, glowered, and yanked his stick shift as leader of the pack, and everyone went home delighted, me included.

”Fast” — and Diesel — were in the proportion they were meant to be, pumped up but actually kind of cute and pocket-size when you looked real close. They were expendable all right, every last character, but they revved and raced without pretension in a cloud of adrenaline and summer sweat.

”XXX” is the opposite of compact. It’s show-offy, it’s on steroids, it’s a short man with lifts in his boots, and it’s jammed with action stunts that regularly run out of gas even while the action continues, in part because Cohen is fetish-fond of midair instant replays. When Cage, straddling a screaming motorcycle, leaps a burning building in a Colombian drug lord’s raided hideaway (that’s another story), the money shot — no exceptional moment of cinematography in the first place — is repeated from every angle, then repeated again. When he evades capture on an icy Balkan mountainside by triggering an avalanche, then snowboards steps ahead of the white onslaught, the novelty of the danger is outpaced by the videogame-low stakes of the stunt.

It’s hard to care about Xander Cage, a muscled freak costumed in a sleeveless black T-shirt and a yak herder’s jacket, who confuses being uncouth with being cool. (It’s difficult to fear the bad guys, too, a gaggle of hissable goons, dodoes, and blunderers who blend into one blur of iffy grooming and accents.)

And it’s especially hard to believe that this man of clay, built without a spirit, is the viable action hero of the future, not for a run longer than the noisome sequel already announced. James Bond may be wearing out his tuxedo and the old-time headbangers like Schwarzenegger and Willis may be wearing out their knee cartilage, but I continue to believe, as Spider-Man is my witness, that an action hero ain’t nothing but a marketing campaign unless he stands for something more than the thrills he seeks and the extreme-sports tie-ins he generates.

Even in the summertime, the most restless young audience deserves the dignity of an action hero motivated by something more than franchise possibilities. Movies like ”XXX” — a big 000 — don’t deserve our $$$.