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XXX Movie Review

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The Fast and the Furious was a horrible movie. Pitch Black wasn't exactly screaming with quality. But is Vin Diesel the next big action star? Time will tell, but signs are definitely pointing towards the positive. In XXX, Diesel is a secret agent unlike any seen before, a fast-talking, quick-punching criminal of sorts that would just as much be partying than saving the world. But even if Diesel is the next action star, is XXX the new form of secret agent movie?

The advertising was blatantly obvious in saying that XXX was the secret agent movie for the next generation, a "much needed" update to the James Bond in tuxedo formula that supposedly - at least I thought - was still quite popular. I love James Bond, but I was willing to see XXX, even though it was directed by Rob Cohen, the director of The Fast and the Furious, one of the dumbest blockbuster hits of the last twenty years, just to see how they compared. And, when push comes to shove, XXX should wish that it didn't compare itself to James Bond, because James Bond could kick Xander Cage's ass any day of the week. But, aside from that, XXX is a surprisingly entertaining and action-packed adventure, filled with explosions, gunfights, and many, many one-liners.

XXX starts off very poorly. A secret agent wearing a tuxedo (this is supposed to be spoofing Bond, but doesn't want to be so blatantly obvious so this agent isn't quite that handsome and has blonde hair) gets killed in the villain's nightclub and is tossed around in a mosh pit. Yeah, that's what I was thinking as well. If XXX is supposed to be so much better than Bond, why do they have to make fun of him to prove their point? Focus on being a better movie, not having a cheesy opening scene. And that is all it is. Whereas the James Bond films usually have intricate opening sequences that pertain to the plot, XXX goes with something that is pretty much completely pointless; if anything, through a "cameo" glimpse of Bond somewhere else in the film, and make him look like Bond. Otherwise, it's just going to look stupid, and it does here.

Luckily, since the opening scene is bad, the movie can only get better, and it does. We are introduced to Xander Cage, a criminal known for filming his stunts and selling them online. His latest trick involves stealing a Senator's car and driving it off of a bridge. Pretty funny stuff. He is, of course, persuaded into working for the government to erase his rap sheet, so he travels to Prague to infiltrate a gang. And that is about as far as the plot goes. I wasn't expecting much of a plot, didn't get much of a plot, and so that's okay.

I went into XXX with very low expectations. I did the same with The Fast and the Furious, but still was disappointed - here, I lowered them even more, or at least now I knew what to expect, and got a treat. The weird thing is that I was expecting very horrible dialogue sequences and some fun if not mindless action scenes, but it was the other way around. With exception to the climatic action sequence at the end, I really liked the non-action moments better than the action ones.

Despite what people think, Vin Diesel is a decent actor. He's no Tom Hanks, but after seeing him in Boiling Room, I know he has some talent under those muscles. He's not fabulous in XXX, but he carries his character well, pulling off those one-liners time and time again and carrying the entire movie on his shoulders. Sure, a lot of the one-liners are cheesy, but Diesel embraces them and makes them entertaining. His lines are fun to listen to - most of the time - and even his facial expressions are fun to watch. Furthermore, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the plot-motivated scenes; again, they weren't wonderful, but they were a little smarter than what I was expecting, and director Cohen is smart enough to still employ some of the traditional plot approaches, instead of completely going with the generation-whatever-we-are-in-now tactics.

The action is another matter altogether. None of the scenes are absolutely terrible, but I slapped myself a few times. I don't know what Cohen was thinking, but there are just some things that aren't physically possible, and there are many things that would definitely not happen over and over again. First of all and most importantly, motorcycles are not helicopters; they cannot fly. I lost count of how many times Diesel jumped over barb-wire fences, houses, and even a fifty-foot-tall wall by going off three-foot-tall jumps, but after the first time, I'd seen enough. Stupidity - that's all I can say. Then there's the avalanche, which we have all seen in the previews, and all despised. Yes, the computer graphics are pretty terrible, but that really wasn't that bothersome. What was troubling was the fact that Diesel was able to out-snowboard the avalanche for a good five or ten minutes. It is impossible. It would never happen. Whoever thought of this - probably Cohen - should be shot.

To be blunt, I cringed more during some of the action scenes than the time when the characters were talking regularly (oh, and when Diesel watches a bunch of scientists getting killed through a brick wall with X-ray glasses, that is pretty cringe-inducing), though I enjoyed both halves moderately well. I was very surprised by how entertained I was, and actually would consider seeing XXX again.

The thing is, XXX is never going to be the next James Bond. If its marketing campaign had never compared this movie to the longest running series of all time, XXX would be in much better shape. But since it did, I have to make note of some reasons why James Bond is better than XXX. The reason Bond has been successful for forty-some years is that when people grow up, they are not as interested in characters like Xander Cage. Bond is able to be good and make fun of itself at the same time because it has been around for so long - the best XXX can do is try to imitate it, and that is exactly what it does. All XXX is a James Bond movie with a little flare - not necessarily better flare, but different flare - look at all of the things this movie borrows from its more serious contemporary: the mansion on the cliff, the strange-looking submarine, the gadgets, everything... Oh, and if XXX really wants to beat out James Bond, it has to have more women. Diesel gets with two women in the movie, but he doesn't even get a lengthy sex scene with either of them, even something worthy of a PG-rating.

XXX is a fun and entertaining movie that is much better than what I expected. If I had to choose, I would go with James Bond everytime, at the most I see two sequels coming from this, but I'll be looking forward to seeing the sequel, which is quite a big step up from wishing The Fast and the Furious 2 would never be made.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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