XXX (2003) Movie Review

The studios that put up the money for Rob Cohen’s “XXX” was so enthusiastic about the finished product that, even before the film opened in theaters to big numbers, they had already greenlit (that is, give the okay for) a sequel. The movie, about an underground extreme sports star that gets recruited to join the N.S.A. led by Samuel L. Jackson, is a younger, cruder, and extremely less sophisticated version of the James Bond films. Then again, seeing as how the James Bond movies have become parodies of itself, what’s the harm?

Vin Diesel, fresh off the success of “The Fast and the Furious” (also directed by Rob Cohen), is Xander Cage, a tattooed hood who likes stealing pretty cars and driving them off bridges so he can videotape them and sell the footage on the Internet. I think. The movie does a very poor job of convincing us that Cage is an underground hero. It’s said a couple of times and we’re just suppose to accept it as gospel without being shown Cage’s popularity beyond one short party scene in the beginning.

Because of his extreme stunts using other people’s properties, Cage comes to the attention of Samuel Jackson’s Gibbons. After one of their agents is killed while trying to infiltrate a group of ex-Russian soldiers-turned-criminals, the N.S.A. presses Cage into service against his will, with the threat of a permanent trip to federal prison over his head. Cage is sent to the Czech Republic, where he meets Yorgi (Marton Csokas), the leader of those Russians in question. In short order, Cage learns that Yorgi is an anarchist, and plans on spreading death and destruction by way of a poisonous gas because he — well, does it matter? Yorgi, like Bond villains, is a cartoon character with a master plan for no-good that requires he be stopped. Nuff said.

“XXX” claims to be a movie about extreme sports, but besides hiring popular skateboarder Tony Hawks and his fellow skaters/BMX bikers to make lengthy cameos, there’s very little “extreme” things going on. At one point Cage uses a motorcycle like a skateboard, flying all over a gunbattle like the thing had wings. In another scene (this one shown extensively in the trailers) Cage snowboards down a snowy mountain after triggering an avalanche behind him. The film might consider these action sequences “extreme”, but they’re just elaborate set pieces that can be found in any James Bond movie and has been for a long while now. I guess James Bond was the first extreme sports hero, right?

“XXX” is to the James Bond movies what orphans are to the parents who abandoned them. They look alike, sound alike, and may have the same genes, but they’re nothing alike. “XXX” enjoys its sleaze and techno music, but has no charm or even the groan-inducing sexual puns of your standard James Bond movie. In truth, “XXX” looks and feels like “Die Another Day” Lite, but without the sly humor or class. Or Halle Berry.

The less said about the story in “XXX” the better. What passes for plot is a series of mindless party scenes and action sequence that involves Diesel’s Cage using a vehicle for stunts they were never intended for. Perennial bad girl Asia Argento adds to the sleaze factor as Yelena, Yorgi’s main woman, who is drawn to bad boy Cage and vice versa. Samuel L. Jackson (“Pulp Fiction”) sports a scarred face and provides the film with its only personality. Thank God for small miracles.

“XXX” is loud and stupid, and just when you thought it couldn’t get any worst, it gets even louder and more stupid. The ending involves Cage chasing a runaway submarine that is — get this — solar powered. The sequence seems to go on forever, but unfortunately it involves Cage fighting with, uh, a submarine/boat, and that’s absolutely no way to end a movie. As every James Bond writer knows, James Bond has to fight the main bad guy in the end or it just isn’t very satisfying. Maybe “XXX” will learn its lesson in the sequel, or perhaps Vin Diesel will let his fake tattoos do the acting again.

By the way, what clever way will the studios come up with to title the “XXX” sequel? Maybe “XXXX”? And the third in the franchise can be “XXXXX”, and so on. Just a thought.

Rob Cohen (director) / Rich Wilkes (screenplay)
CAST: Vin Diesel …. Xander Cage
Asia Argento …. Yelena
Marton Csokas …. Yorgi
Samuel L. Jackson …. Agent Augustus Gibbons


Buy XXX on DVD