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Review: 'XXX' powered strongly by Diesel

Completely nonsensical, but it doesn't matter

Review: 'XXX' powered strongly by Diesel


By Paul Clinton
CNN Reviewer

(CNN) -- By Paul Clinton

CNN Reviewer

(CNN) -- "XXX" (pronounced "triple x") isn't actually a movie; it's a series of near-death experiences. It's also completely ludicrous, way over the top -- and a whole lot of fun.

Move over, James Bond: Vin Diesel's in the house.

Written by Rich Wilkes and directed by Rob Cohen, this pyrotechnic extravaganza rocks from the first frame of film until the closing credits. It's also full of cocky humor, mostly from Diesel; a great tongue-in-check performance by Samuel L. Jackson; and of course, a very sexy woman, Yelena, as our hero's love interest, played to perfection by Italian actress Asia Argento.

Diesel plays Xander Cage, an extreme-sports enthusiast who makes his living by selling videos of his illegal stunts. The testosterone is raging as Cage performs such stunts as parachuting out of a stolen car as it plunges 700 feet off a bridge into a raging river.

The first 40 minutes sets up Cage's character and how he's reluctantly recruited by National Security Agent Augustus Gibbons (Jackson). Since this movie is obviously the first in a new action franchise, Cage's backstory will be important when the studio is grinding out "XXX III" through "XXX XXX."

Over the edge

Cage's target is a group of eastern European thugs who operate out of Prague and call themselves Anarchy 99. The NSA has sent in agent after agent -- Bond types, complete with tuxedos -- and, one after the other, they've all been killed. It's clear that times have changed, and the old 007 routine just isn't cutting it anymore.

Cocky and full of attitude, Cage soon worms his way into the group by demonstrating that no matter how crazy they are, he's even more over the edge. The only one not buying his act is Yelena, the girlfriend of the group's leader. She and Cage hate each other on sight.

Of course, they fall in love.

It soon becomes clear that Anarchy 99 is no mere band of hoods selling drugs or dealing in weapons. Nope, these guys think big. They've got a scheme involving chemical weapons that they're planning on using to -- what else -- take over the world. And the only person standing between them and worldwide chaos is -- dah dah -- Xander Cage (cue fanfare).

Props to the director

Actually the plot, such as it is, is secondary.

This film is really all about making Diesel the action star for the new millennium. After all, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis and -- despite the upcoming "Terminator 3" -- Arnold Schwarzenegger are getting a little long in the tooth for this much action. Although Nicholas Cage and John Travolta might make occasional forays into the action genre, they're not about to make it their specialties. The only other competition in sight is The Rock, but he pales in comparison next to the bearlike charm and rumbling vocal chords of Mister Diesel.

Vin Diesel
Vin Diesel takes no prisoners in "XXX."  

A huge portion of the credit for this spectacle goes to its 53-year-old director. Cohen has been around for a long time, as a producer of such films as "Thank God It's Friday" (1978), "The Witches of Eastwick" (1987), and "Bird on a Wire" (1990).

He later turned to directing, and was at the helm of the film that pushed Diesel over the top: the highly -- and surprisingly -- successful "The Fast and the Furious" (2001). That movie was supposed to make Paul Walker a major star, but viewers fixated on Diesel instead, and after the film raked in $145 million in domestic box office alone, The Powers That Be in Hollywood began lining up with offers for the new action king.

"The Fast and the Furious II" is on its way, and you can bet the ranch that a sequel to "XXX" is also around the corner. It's only a matter of time until Diesel joins the $20 million club in Hollywood.

Note: If you want to see the Diesel at his best, rent or buy "Pitch Black" (2000), a sci-fi space thriller. And, yes, a sequel of that movie is also in the works. It appears that Diesel is here to stay.

"XXX" opens nationwide on Friday, August 9, and is rated PG-13.



 
 
 
 



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