XXX 

(PG-13) 3 stars

(PG-13) 3 stars

Check out Xander Cage. He lumbers along with a freshly-shaven head and a muscular torso that gleams in the sun. His tattoos range in size and complexity, from a little one that makes one of his nipples look like the sun to a stylish "XXX" on the back of his Henry Rollins-thick neck. Preparing for a night out on the mean streets, Xander dons a long, shaggy, fur-lined coat from the Tyler Durden Fight Club Collection. He"s a bad ass thug with a heart of gold, a brawny lug three times the size of your average X Games athlete, a member in good standing of a subculture that draws its fashion inspiration from post-apocalyptic action movies. Vin Diesel plays Xander Cage, and don"t you just love it when an actor"s stage name sounds just as made-up as his character"s?
XXX is an occasionally fun, sub-literate action movie/spy thriller that follows the James Bond template religiously while altering each component so that it will appeal to a younger demographic. In fact, several reviewers have complained that the film takes the Bond format and turns it into something juvenile and crude. Right. It would be terrible to demean the sophisticated, droll minds that brought us Octopussy. Truth be told, all that XXX does is replace one ridiculous macho stereotype with another one. Instead of a tuxedo-clad leading man delivering double entendres straight out of a Playboy Party Jokes book, we get a sarcastic weightlifter in skateboarder drag. When it comes to masculinity, heterosexual men can be so silly. We meet extreme sports legend Xander Cage as he steals a California politician"s convertible Corvette and goes on a wild police chase before driving the car off a very tall bridge and parachuting to safety. He and his extreme sports buddies film the extremely cool stunt, of course. Because extreme sports people film everything. Shortly after, Cage gets knocked out by a blow dart and hauled away by NSA agent Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson), looking for a recruit to handle a very difficult international situation. Cage wakes up in a diner and, before his head has cleared, must deal with a pair of armed robbers. But wait, it was only a test! Having passed said test with flying colors, Cage gets knocked out again and dumped into a suspicious-looking Colombian coca plantation, where he fends off an attack by a rocket-launching helicopter by grabbing an oh-so-handy motocross bike and doing extreme jumps. But wait, it was only another test! An incredibly elaborate, extremely dangerous and absurdly expensive test. Finally, our hero, a two-time loser forced to be compliant, is deemed worthy to be shipped off to the Czech Republic, where he must deal with Yorgi (Marton Csokas), the leader of Anarchy "99, a militant group that wants to (a drum roll, please) take over the world. Cage uses his extreme sports celebrity to ingratiate himself with Yorgi and his girlfriend, Yelena (Asia Argento), purchasing hot rods and attending a techno-rave with whores galore. The film shifts into neutral for a while, until Yorgi discovers the truth and Cage must deal with him directly, using all of his extreme sports skills. Following a great deal of running around, Cage finds himself on a snowboard in the middle of a huge mountainside chase, where he uses explosives to start an avalanche, which he then outruns. The sequence is absolutely ridiculous and very entertaining. Before all is said and done, he lands behind the wheel of a souped-up 1967 GTO, racing to stop an event that could wipe out millions of people and possibly trigger World War III. How extreme. XXX is at its best during the stunt scenes and at its worst when the characters talk. Cage tickles our funny bones with droll one-liners like, "Don"t be a dick, Dick." And the bad guys shout things like, "Catch him fast! Kill him slow!" The acting ranges from so-so to wince inducing. As for the name talent, while Samuel L. Jackson operates on autopilot, Vin Diesel proves that he can carry a film alone, radiating enough charisma to triumph over the script. Way to go, Vin, but please use your increasing star power to demand better writing for the sequel.

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