Movie Review

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  • Reviewed Format: Wide Theatrical Release
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Stars: Vin Diesel, Samuel L. Jackson, Asia Argento, Martin Csokas
  • Writer: Rich Wilkes
  • Director: Rob Cohen
  • Distributor: Columbia Pictures


At the risk of indulging in cliché this is James Bond for the new millennium

By Abbie Bernstein     August 09, 2002

Everybody old enough to watch movies has seen some (likely many) variations on XXX before. This summer alone, we've had THE SUM OF ALL FEARS and BAD COMPANY, tales of novice CIA agents thrown in the deep end to prevent apocalypse at the hands of extremists who want to radically alter the world order. (Substitute a veteran British operative for a green American, and you've got the perennial 007 formula.) That's pretty much the plot of XXX also, but it doesn't matter. If a movie fits anywhere in the realm between failure and competence, it looks derivative. If, however, it nails its premise, it makes all previous versions look like dress rehearsals, and that's the case here.

After a literally fire-breathing prologue setting up the villainous, ruthless Yorgi (Marton Csokas) and his crew, we're introduced to Xander Cates (Vin Diesel), an adventurer who performs death-(and law-)defying stunts for an Internet audience. Xander captures the attention of CIA handler Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson), who is seeking some expendable, fearless scum to penetrate the mysterious European organization Anarchy 99. After some hair-raising, involuntary "auditions," Xander reluctantly takes on the gig, which is preferable to a three-strikes jail sentence. He infiltrates Yorgi's organization and uncovers a doomsday scheme...

...which wouldn't


matter very much to a jaded audience, except that director Rob Cohen and writer Rich Wilkes have conceived and executed some of the most fabulous stunt sequences seen anywhere in a good while, and they have Diesel at the center of the action. People probably don't need to be cautioned not to try Xander's feats at home they're not physically possible but Diesel never winks at the audience. He's got the attitude of a friendly but easily exasperated guy from around the block, in the body that looks like he can bench-press a building. We like him and we believe him and we therefore get the full measure of vicarious thrill when he succeeds in surviving flaming motorcycle jumps, out-skating an avalanche and so much more. A bonus to cinch the deal is that Wilkes actually crafts some good one-liners and knows how to avoid clinkers even in the exposition, so that when the (relatively few) breathers arrive, they sail along happily.

The supporting cast is right on the money. Jackson is a brilliant choice as the authority figure, someone cool and intimidating enough to maintain his own stature in the face of Diesel's imposing presence. Csokas is a totally swell Euro villain and Asia Argento (daughter of Dario) is a splendid femme fatale.

XXX avoids a trap that plagues a lot of spy films it's not self-conscious and yet it's not self-important. Cohen and Wilkes know exactly how hard to hit their plot points. They also let the excitement speak for itself without poking us in the ribs. It is inventive and well-modulated, in tune with its audience and its era.

XXX doesn't transcend its genre so much as epitomizes it. It's a great one of what it is.

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