A movie review by James Berardinelli



United States, 2002

U.S. Release Date:


Running Length:


MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:



Vin Diesel, Samuel L. Jackson, Asia Argento, Marton Csokas, Joe Bucaro III


Rob Cohen


Rich Wilkes


Dean Semler


Randy Edelman

U.S. Distributor:

Columbia Pictures



For Vin Diesel, starring in XXX is a wonderfully smart career move. Too bad neither "wonderful" nor "smart" are applicable adjectives to describe this film. XXX is proof positive that it's easier to fail than succeed with the James Bond formula, and that films without the "real" 007 probably shouldn't try. If there's one thing that XXX offers, it's the opportunity to see what a Bond film might be like with a Sylvester Stallone-type action hero in the lead role. Think Rambo crossed with A View to a Kill.

When it comes to action sequences, there's no question that director Rob Cohen knows what he's doing. XXX follows a very basic pattern: chase, fight, pause for exposition, chase, fight, pause for exposition... Many of the things that XXX does with parachutes, cars, boats, and snowboards are quite amazing. Unfortunately, this is action without tension, explosions without the concussion. Cohen may be a virtuoso when it comes to choreographing stunts, but he has forgotten the basic elements necessary to generate tension. All that's needed is to place characters worth caring about in a situation where the audience genuinely believes they're in danger. Then, even trite action scenes can be exciting. Unfortunately, Cohen offers plastic, uninteresting, indestructible characters and expects us to become excited because the action sequences are elaborate. Sure, there's a scene where the hero has to outrun an avalanche (with the wall of snow standing in for the fireball this time around), but there's never any sense that he might get buried. Booooring.

The plot is minimalist. Vin Diesel plays Xander Cage, a.k.a. "Triple-X", who likes his life shaken, not stirred. Xander is a thrill-seeker, and he's in trouble with the law. Enter NSA Agent Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson), who might as well have an "M" tattooed on his forehead. He recruits a reluctant Xander, then sends him to Prague to infiltrate the "Anarchy 99" organization run by an unimpressive villain-type named Yorgi (Marton Csokas), who is afflicted with Blofeld Megalomaniac Syndrome. Apparently, Yorgi has gotten hold of the deadly "Silent Night" biological weapon and may be planning to use it. Along the way, Xander hooks up with the sexy Yelena (Asia Argento) and is aided in his quest by weapons expert Virg (Joe Bucaro III), whose last name must be "Q". If all this sound familiar, it's because you've seen it before with guys like Sean Connery, Roger Moore, and Pierce Brosnan playing the Xander part.

To a great extent, the Bond formula works in Bond movies because there's a level of slick charm and dry wit that's entirely absent here. XXX boasts nice stuntwork and a loud soundtrack, but it can't figure out how to keep an audience interested in between the explosions and fights. Vin Diesel has a commanding screen presence, but he lacks the unforced charisma of Connery, Moore, or Brosnan. He's more like a Stallone or Schwarzenegger with the bulked-up body, exaggerated swagger, and one-liners. And those type of hard-core action heroes don't belong in James Bond movies. Their place is R-rated outings with plenty of hard-hitting stuff and the occasional topless woman. XXX is crying out for that sort of thing, but, because it needs a PG-13 rating (and the associated influx of teenage boys), it plays things coy. As a result, not only is XXX lobotomized, it's emasculated as well.

Cohen and Diesel scored big last year with The Fast and the Furious, a mindless-but-fun summer picture about crime and cars. A lot of what made that film successful can be found here, including the idea of the main character infiltrating a criminal group and the MTV-style editing that is in favor. Much as he did in another uninspired and recycled picture, Pitch Black, Diesel stands out. The problem is that he's not given a real character to play, so he spends the entire 120 minutes strutting around acting cool and using his gravelly voice to utter all those one-liners. His female co-star, Asia Argento (daughter of the Italian horror director, Dario Argento), is cute enough to be the film's "Bond girl", but she has even less to do than Diesel.

There are times when the action sequences are so outrageously overblown that I wondered if I was watching a parody. Unfortunately, the film's sober and sincere tone forced me to dismiss that tantalizing possibility. However, even though XXX's screenplay makes the average Bond script seem like Shakespeare, this movie will make money. The marketing campaign knows its targets and is hitting them with all it's got. Rumor has it that additional XXX movies are in the pipeline. Let's just hope that next time around the writers decide to pursue an original thought or two, or at least find another movie franchise to steal from. I wonder if Diesel can deliver a Vulcan neck pinch.

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