Review: “XXX”

Right from its opening sequence involving the fate of a tuxedo-clad secret agent, this Bruckheimer-esque actioneer both savagely attacks and ironically relies heavily on material and familiarity with the far superior James Bond franchise, to result in a film which shows you how bad it would be if Hollywood producers attempted to Americanize the 007 adventures.

Why? Not only would all the subtlety be gone, but they’d replace it with tired adventure films like this in which the enjoyable if over-rated Vin Diesel takes on ex-Russian militia turned criminals (now there’s an original group of film villains) who plan to attack the world with a chemical weapon subplot – borrowing elements right out of the superior “Moonraker” and “Die Hard: With a Vengeance” films (movies which themselves were hardly highlights of their respective franchises).

Make no mistake, “xXx” has a lot going for it. Despite some utterly failed attempts at jokes and arrogance, Diesel is nevertheless a likeable lead and believable as an extreme sports junkie (as a secret agent in training though he leaves a lot to be desired). Jackson and Argento lend good if somewhat unremarkable support (we all love Sam, but lets face it – he’s no Judi Dench), and Dean Semler uses his visual skill as the cinematographer to give us some great action from an exploding drug house to a surprisingly convincing submarine chase. Director Rob Cohen also holds the pace and story together well, for that he can’t be faulted – whilst the setting and FX make good use of location.

What can be torn to shreds though is the script. “The World is Not Enough”, generally considered the weakest Bond film of the Brosnan-era, nevertheless had a cohesive and well thought out story even if the take on it was from a wrong angle (ie. trying to humanise 007). “xXx” goes the other way – its TOO flashy and slick which works to cover the fact it has no story. There’s a fun training scene set around a diner but otherwise this has the feel of an outdated Schwarzenegger flick stripped down to its bare bones.

That’s combined with some sequences that are so ridiculously over the top (eg. the avalanche) one asks why did they even bother. Csokas makes a rather lacklustre villain as a snarling pitbull stocking up a chemical weapon nicknamed “Silent Night”. There’s the bumbling geek take on the Q gadget-supplier style character, and a soundtrack that would be well at home in the punk rock burbs. Like I said though, this is a poor man’s James Bond. More explosive action? Sure but no sly humour, no intrigue, unambitious storytelling, unengaging characters, etc. Is that really a fair trade off?