Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Film Review: XXX (2002, Rob Cohen)

Stars: XXX of 5.
Running Time: 124 minutes.
Tag-line: "A New Breed of Secret Agent."
Notable Cast or Crew: Starring Vin Diesel (SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, PITCH BLACK), Asia Argento (LAND OF THE DEAD, TRAUMA), Marton Csokas (THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS), Samuel L. Jackson (PULP FICTION, UNBREAKABLE), Danny Trejo (DESPERADO, MACHETE), Thomas Ian Griffith (VAMPIRES, BEHIND ENEMY LINES), Eve (BARBERSHOP, THE WOODSMAN), and Tony Hawk.  Music by Randy Edelman (KINDERGARTEN COP, GHOSTBUSTERS II).  A soundtrack featuring Rammstein, Drowning Pool, Hatebreed, Joi, Flaw, Orbital, Mushroomhead, N.E.R.D., and other 90s bands you may have forgotten.
Best One-liner:  "Welcome to the Xander Zone."

The bastard child of James Bond and the X-treme sports fad, I had long avoided XXX, largely because it was not made during the 1980s, the golden period of cheesy action.  How foolish I was!  For a movie named after Vin Diesel's (fictional) tattoo and featuring a gang of villains named Anarchy 99, it is surprisingly palatable.

 I have no idea if I would have liked this as much if I'd seen it when it came out in 2002, but XXX has aged like a fine wine.  Or at least like a wine in comic strip that's served in a bottle marked "XXX."

From the director of THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR, DRAGONHEART, and DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY (Rob Cohen, the man who directs movies with the word 'Dragon' in the title more often than any comparable director), XXX is a spectacular undercover glimpse into the exclusive world of Eurotrash rave culture and high-level secret government operations.  Here are eight things I liked about it:

#1.  Asia Argento.

Cult, horror, and Italo-trash legend, she's essentially why I decided to watch this in the first place.  And yet this was her first foray into a major Hollywood film.  Why 2002?  Why XXX?  I figured it out: it's not that Asia had to wait around for Hollywood to find a trashy role; Hollywood had to wait until Asia decided they'd come up with a movie trashy enough to meet her rigorous trash standards.
Here she is, pretending to dance, on all the drugs.

Throughout, she maintains a consistency of performance, even (especially?) when her scene partner is the impressively wooden and hilariously flat Vin Diesel.

Don't scowl, Asia––he's still better than most of the cast of DRACULA 3D.

She's technically the "Bond girl," but in a movie this trashy, I say she's the star.


#2.  I mean, the opening scene is a Rammstein concert in a Euro-cathedral, where a man is assassinated and then crowd-surfed amid gouts of flame and other pyrotechnics.


They shot James Bond?

Later, there are more raves and tesla coils and techno music.

This picture could not exist without the subtitle "Techno Music Playing."

And cranberry club sodas.
Er, what––

#3.  Let's take a moment to talk about Vin Diesel and that wondrous jacket, shall we?

Yes, that furry-collared jacket (complete with a stylishly gaudy medallion) appears in roughly an entire third of the film, which leads me to believe they thought it was quite the trendy fashion statement.  It's nearly as great as Kramer's in that one SEINFELD episode where he's mistaken for a pimp.

Highest marks.  But who is Vin Diesel's Xander "xXx" Cage?"  Who is he really?  What makes him tick, besides cranberry sodas and furry collars and stilted line readings?


#4.  xXx is a crusading everyman.  He talks straight into little video cameras (addressing the nation?) and makes confessional rants about "The Man" and video games and explicit song lyrics.   He is an iconoclast, a man of letters, a philosopher.


But when it comes to solving problems, where Plato used the Socratic method, xXx uses... X-treme sports.  In fact, you could say that is the main thrust of the film is the use of X-treme sports to solve matters of international diplomacy and intrigue.

Whether it's X-treme Dirtbiking:

Thank God there happened to be an offroad crotchrocket lying around.

X-treme Rockclimbing:

"Get a grip!"

X-treme Para-snowboarding:


X-treme Regular Snowboarding:

"Nothing like fresh powder!" –an actual line in this sequence

X-treme Para-sailing:


And, my personal favorite, X-Treme Silver Platter:

which leads to X-Treme Silver Platter-Skateboarding:

Pictured: a typical European street scene.

And yet all of these personality traits make the following even more satisfying (albeit briefly):


#4.  Danny Trejo, with a machete, torturing Vin Diesel.


This is the sort of thing that's worth the price of admission, even if it only lasts for two minutes.  And look at Danny Trejo, boldly transitioning from "Prisoner" to "Guy with Machete."  But, oh, he does it well.


#5.  Potato Explosion!  This is the best potato-related car chase sequence explosion since the one in PET SEMATARY TWO.



"Now that's what I call a 'tater crater.'"  –not my proudest moment


#6.  Facial-scarred Sam Jackson phoning in––nay, mailing in––a performance as the 'M' of this universe, comparing Mr. Diesel to a snake


Technically, in this context, said 'snake' would be on a plane––and four years before they made the movie!

and delivering a hearty (and self-referential?) slow clap when Vin Diesel does what he didn't in PULP FICTION––kick the asses of some stick-up artists in a retro diner:

Not quite as good as the slow clap in ROCKY IV.


#7.  And continuing with the James Bond analogy, there's also a 'Q' scene, with all the requisite gadgets.  Though, when Vin Diesel tries out the X-ray binoculars,

it bears mentioning that he briefly becomes XXX: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES.


#8.  The Xander Zone.

I think this is a good note to end on.  Amen.

–Sean Gill


4 comments:

J.D. Lafrance said...

At least, Asia did LAND OF THE DEAD so she's got that going for her.

Man, this is such a bad movie. Thank god Diesel has since been imprisoned in the FAST & FURIOUS franchise... alto, I did enjoy the last RIDDICK movie.

Cannon said...

First off, let’s just stop for a moment and meditate on the very idea of Thomas Ian Griffith as James Bond.

Now THAT is the non-Eon, mid-90s New Line Cinema 007 movie I’d pay to see. The kind where TIG’s Bond would just walk around the streets of Chicago, waging a one-man war against invading Triads (with James Hong as the head crime boss). But I digress...

Summer of 2002, the movie xXx (note how I address its proper capitalization) came into my life at a time when I was contently working for monthly, minimum wage paychecks and had recently received my first blowjob. In other words, I didn’t so much see a matinee showing of this out of some conscious desire, but merely because the lizard part of my early 20s brain automated me in the general direction of any schlock corporate pandering to macho jock-fetish escapism; furthermore, with the promise of Eurotrash erotica à la Asia Argento.

Asia Argento. Damn.

I had seen her before in one of her fucked-up 'dad' movies, The Phantom of the Opera, opposite Julian Sands (another possible TIG Bond villain), immediately falling into hard-on love with her, only to then inexplicably forget about her. But with xXx, it was instant total recall. She’s remained a mental calendar pinup wet-dream ever since. If I’m ever shot dead by a woman, I hope it’s Asia.

Some closing kudos to a couple Vin Diesel lines that have likewise stayed with me, as part of my smartass 'X-treme!' persona arsenal, or to simply blurt out at random during the boredom of grocery shopping. From the same scene, two back-to-back gems—one genuinely spontaneous, the other meta:

"Where’s my peanuts?!"

"I live for this shit!"

Sean Gill said...

J.D.,

Heheh. Though I also thought, in terms of her non-horror work, that GO GO TALES and THE LAST MISTRESS were worthy of her talents; and SCARLET DIVA and THE HEART IS DECEITFUL ABOVE ALL THINGS are delightfully insane.


Cannon,

I'd definitely watch a TIG/Julian Sands/James Hong Bond movie. (Maybe with Clancy Brown or Charles Durning as the hardboiled Chicago cop who has to help TIG against his better judgment).

And I appreciate the personal story––ah, the affect of Asia A. on an impressionable young man! I think what you have here is a coming-of-age/literary nonfiction piece called "Summer of xXx..." (I'm only half-joking).

And who could ever forget the subtle poetry of, "Where's my peanuts?"

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