XXX

(2002) * 1/2 Pg-13
124 min. Columbia. Director: Rob Cohen. Cast: Vin Diesel, Samuel L. Jackson, Marton Csokas, Asia Argento, Michael Roof.

Like a local Haunted House attraction, XXX leaps out at you, makes loud noises, and plops your hand in the proverbial plate of cold spaghetti "guts." Superficially, it resembles exhilarating action films of the past, but the paint-by-numbers approach just doesn't do the trick. With all around bad acting, hyperactive production, and a script that passes "camp" and goes right on through to "bad," XXX goes only to prove how desperate Hollywood is to agressively market Vin Diesel to preteens as the Action Star of the Aughts.

Pandering is unfortunately the word for this reimagining of James Bond as an extreme sportsman. Diesel plays an underground celebrity hoodlum who lusts for the freedom of anarchy until he brings out his inner flag-waver to face evil would-be conquerors while skyboarding, snowboarding, skateboarding, and playing video games. Samuel L. Jackson plays recruiter and badass "M" upgrade Agustus Gibbons; he proves to be useful mostly for shaking his head and saying things like, "Oh, Triple-X..." Asia Argento plays the "mysterious" femme fatale, and Marton Csokas--looking for all the world like an extra from The Crow finally getting his big break--plays Yorgi, a greasy, stubbly, bare-chested, dead-eyed, thick-tongued, tattooed villain. As long as they're going that far, why not give the guy a pet black panther?

But XXX never commits to the spoof it obviously is, preferring to hedge its bets as a serious action entry. This means the choice of Prague as setting (is the whole damn town a Hollywood backlot now?) and lines like "That guy on the bike! That's the drug lord. Let's get him!" are presented with straight faces. Director Rob Cohen (who never met a dutch angle he didn't like) even pitches clueless cinematic references like an extra playing The Third Man's immortal zither theme though neither the setting nor anything else remotely suggests the earlier classic (for the record, Rob, The Third Man was set in Vienna).

In the film's defense, Cohen musters one sit-up-in-your-seat sequence which, like similar sequences in Bond films, springboards over incredulity to sheer adrenalized fun. Again evoking Bond, the sequence entails a snow-capped mountain, a small army of goons, and a series of unnatural and natural disasters.

Diesel is, I suppose, the post-modern Stallone, with his low-rumbling "charm" and "sly" humor. Ironically, Diesel was served much better in Cohen's The Fast and the Furious, the sequel to which both star and director passed up; in hindsight, that somewhat ludicrous film plays like gritty and emotional docudrama. XXX will undoubtedly rake in plenty, but I'm not sure we're ready for Diesel to take charge of our big-screen action dreams.

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