xXx

xXxVin Diesel stars as Xander Cage, a.k.a. “X” and, of course “xXx” in this highly entertaining spy/action vehicle. Samuel L. Jackson also stars as Augustus Gibbons and Italian actress/director Asia Argento plays Yelena, a woman who doesn’t need saved by the males (thank goodness) though several objective treatments of females are littered throughout the story. Michael Roof (Black Hawk Down) plays gadget man, Toby Lee Shavers and provides the predictable humor, or attempts at humor, between the action. Danny Trejo (Desperado, Heat) also has a prominent, but short role. Musician Eve plays JJ, Xander’s associate while German music group Rammstein and skater Tony Hawk make prominent cameos.

New Zealander Marton Csokas (Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings) plays the key antagonist Yorgi head of a group called Anarchy 99 developing several missions including “Silent Night.” He has help both serious, namely Kirill played by Werner Dahn (Enemy at the Gates) and common, namely big henchman played by Petr Jakl (Bad Company) and Jan Pavel Filipensky (their character names aren’t noticeable until the end of the movie).

In a fickle culture full of intense fads and trends, this new offering lets the audience “try something new” in the spy/action genre and filmmakers respect the existing elements. Suspense and tension typically don’t exist in this genre because the audience knows the protagonist won’t die, so filmmakers must fill with excitement, thrills, sex appeal and humor.

The standard headquarters shot quickly pans from a familiar site to an extensive underground base where you first meet Gibbons. His unique proposal promises “no more mouses in the snake pit” and establishes the Xander’s introduction, the obvious focus of the movie. It doesn’t take Diesel long to identify with the audience and by the time he’s justifying his anti-establishment actions to a video camera, you feel a natural approach and appeal that translates easily within the storyline.

Besides the necessary background needed to establish the main conflict, most story efforts exist to bolster Xander’s likeability and connection with the audience (i.e. Xander’s friends quacking in awe during an exterior bridge sequence, a female character hooting at his daredevil exit from a moving vehicle, etc. etc.). Most audiences will find Xander already likeable within the beginning scenes, but by the end he doesn’t have the depth that would move you to tears caring for his well-being.

The story, written by Rich Wilkes puts together a decent story that builds on and supports itself on cliches and established successes in the action/spy genre, especially evident in the beginning sequence and painfully evident in a full circle quip involving Kirill’s love of cigarettes. Wilkes wisely showcases the unique, “working” relationship between Gibbons and Xander which will hopefully develop in future installments. “I’m an authority figure. I’m supposed to inspire you,” quips Gibbons.

Xander definitely gets a taste of his now predetermined path when Gibbons creates an agreement that allows Xander to pay back the government for “all the wonderful freedoms” he’s enjoyed. After Xander and Gibbons come to a unique understanding, you see Xander’s true colors as he’s literally dropped into a surreal situation which bring purpose to his stunts and dangerous “pranks.” Xander’s unpredictability entertains the audience while attracting the admiration of the Yorgi. Xander’s honesty, genuine feelings (which vary from being horny to caring about associates he doesn’t even know) and quick wits allow him to survive dangerous situations that ensue.

Xander’s characteristics never manipulate. Once he’s in the grasp of this secret government agency, his unpredictable life gets even more volatility, but he stays true to himself (reinforced by an earlier scene when JJ fends off a female executive interested in Xander as a media property). Xander can’t be bribed and feeds from the constant challenges and dangers he faces in the field. Xander’s characteristics are so strong, he questions the approach of an entire S.W.A.T. team urging them to “start thinking Playstation” and take quick, yet smart, action. The story never makes him surreal and adds elements such as his ineptness with an assault rifle. The audience can relate much better and gets more emotional excitement from characters obviously inexperienced with new equipment than from characters who magically make all the right moves. Xander’s lack of training and spontaneous action represents the main fuel that keeps the audience’s interest.

It’s also refreshing to see the ending setting and its inhabitants showcased so prominently, but the reasoning behind these montage shots evoke forced results and sympathy that may rub some audiences the wrong way. Audiences may also feel forced during other parts of the ending sequences, especially the “root for the hero” attempts that even involve the stoic, but tactful Gibbons. Again, his forced “emotional” reaction manipulates audiences, but then quickly changes and he’s barking orders to his subordinates again. More entertaining perspectives, such as the obligatory henchman’s “life is shit” quip would serve the movie better.

Director Rob Cohen (The Fast and Furious, Dragon) keeps the action in focus well without too many cuts and edits. His varying camera shots and angles work well with spots of inspired visuals such as a low shot of car on its end with Xander hiding at the bottom.  Many action sequences, especially the avalanche sequence, truly amaze audience. Cohen uses incredible point of view shots and special shots that bring the impact of an exterior sequence close the audience (Imagine John MacLaine hitting the camera lens during his plane seat ejection in Die Hard 2). Cinematographer Dean Semler (We Were Soldiers, Waterworld) keeps the images and scenery sharp especially during the sequences heavy in special effects.

Music includes such hard rock acts as Drowning Pool, Orbital, DMX, Jay-Z and Gavin Rossdale. If tiny logistic issues, such as using tanning oil to prevent sunburn, bother you, then you may be in the wrong movie genre. xXx represents solid entertainment and a good base for future installments that this reviewer anticipates with great interest. Recommended (*** out of four stars) and rated PG-13 for violence, non-stop action sequences, sensuality, drug content and language.

Copyright © Michael Siebenaler

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