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Director: Rob Cohen
Cast: Vin Diesel, Samuel L. Jackson, Marton Csokas, Asia Argento
Plot: An extreme sports junkie (Diesel) recruited into the NSA to infiltrate a crime ring in the Czech Republic.

James Bond has been reworked and restyled since the world of cinema realised that the gentleman spy was one of the cooler narratives out there. Over-the-top villains, beautiful girls and a male hero that everyone wanted to be. Of course, over the years, that hero everyone wanted to be bit needed to be reshaped over the course of time. Assuming you didn’t want to be a government upper class alcoholic, several films changed the persona of the leading hero. xXx gives us Vin Diesel as an anti-authoritarian stuntsman, who spends his free time destroying the property of entitled rich people (probably Bond’s, if you like your metaphors hammered in), forced into saving the world.

It is definitely Bond for the early noughties era. Power ballad soundtracks are replaced for electronic clubs where heavy metal is the genre of choice. The cars aren’t vintage Aston Martins, but souped up sports-cars. Early on, you would think that Vin Diesel accidentally got the script of the Fast and Furious movie he had just finished muddled up, seeing as lengthy scenes see him talking intricately about a customised Pontiac GTO. Ah, Vin Diesel. He is definitely the alternative 007 here. It was a good year for Diesel, this unheard-of actor grabbing two solid hits with Pitch Black and The Fast and Furious back-to-back. xXx was supposed to be the film to cement him as the new action hero of our era. He definitely looks the part, hulking muscle and charismatic eyes. While he is hardly going to collect any awards, he is also good enough an actor to steer the movie away from Van Damme levels of cheese. He handles the one-liners like he spent the last decade playing Bond (“Told you that cigarette would kill you one day!”), and handles the action well. He only truly falls down in the finer parts of the plot. He is a pretty poor romantic lead, poor Asia Argento suffering, not because she is personally poor, but because garnering essential chemistry with Diesel is like working blood out of a stone. The end result is her “Bond girl” (what? I can hardly call her a XXX girl, can I?), being lost in the story, a female token part rather than a source of emotional heft. But Diesel wasn’t cast for his lingo with the ladies. He is an easy person to watch, adding a cheeky charisma to his fighting that makes a two hour film where he punches Eastern Europeans great cinema. It starts off with two back-to-back sequences that sell Diesel as a worthwhile action hero. The first sees him trash a Corvette in the kind of outrageous sequence that should be pre-credits in a Bond film. The second sees Diesel get caught up in a drug raid in Columbia, resulting in an inventive prison break, a motorbike leap over an exploding roof and the offing of Danny Trejo, in his obligatory action movie cameo as a sleazy drugslord. From then on, even if the movie is guilty of slowing right down to a crawl, there is no problem believing that Vin Diesel is the kind of character who is ready and able to kick ass.

But the problem with copying and pasting a script from James Bond is that you are competing with the master of the trade. xXx never escapes the fact it is a carbon copy of 007. The plot is very “here are the bare bones and the action will fill in the massive gaps”. Marton Csokas’ Russian villain is given a threadbare plot that essentially amounts to ‘destroying the world just to see what will happen’. Csokas does his best with the material, having fun as the evil scumbag who is happy to murder off his goons when the time is right, but it is nothing we haven’t seen before. There is some fun to be had in the fact that Diesel’s Xander Cage is closer to villain than hero, so the philosophies of protagonist and antagonist intercede at several points. Wasn’t Diesel starting this movie sticking his middle finger up to the rules governments set? Perhaps this is where the bleakness of the villain’s plan comes from: he needs to be despicably evil just to give Diesel a big enough reason to come gunning for him. Action fans looking to switch off will have undeniable fun with the loud explosions with xXx and, in fairness, this is clearly the intended audience here. There are lengthy scenes in nightclubs with scantily-clad girls and stylish vehicles to make this a boy’s film through and through. But anyone seeking more, and I would like to think even action fans like their movies with a little more bite, will be a tad let down by this well-meaning action, but one that sinks into mediocrity quite quickly.

Final Verdict: Very strong in certain scenes, annoyingly poor everywhere else. Likeable, but it is essentially a messy collage of other movies.

Two Stars

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