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Rob Cohen
Vin Diesel, Samuel L. Jackson, Asia Argento, Marton Csokas, Joe Bucaro III
Writing Credits:
Rich Wilkes

Extreme sports athlete Xander Cage is recruited by the government for a special mission.
Box Office:
Budget $85 million.
Opening weekend $44.506 million on 3374 screens.
Domestic gross $141.204 million.
Rated PG-13

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English Uncompressed PCM 5.1
English Dolby 5.1
French Dolby 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 124 min.
Price: $14.98
Release Date: 6/20/2006

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xXx [Blu-Ray] (2002)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 27, 2016)

Apparently the folks behind 2002’s xXx thought we needed a new 007, for that’s how they touted their summer action flick. Advance word on xXx pushed it as a Bond adventure for the extreme sports set; they hoped to make the super-spy seem outdated and obsolete with their new chrome-domed, tattooed, muscular thrill-seeker.

It didn’t work - not that xXx didn’t do pretty well at the box office. Its gross of $141 million fell short of studio expectations, but it still offered a pretty tidy sum for an action flick with no established stars; lead Vin Diesel had made a decent name for himself as of 2002, but he wasn’t exactly a household name.

For me to accept xXx as something that superceded Bond, the former needed to make much more money than the latter. As luck would have it, a new 007 adventure hit screens less than half a year after xXx, as Die Another Day came out around Thanksgiving of 2002. Day surpassed the gross of xXx by a little in the US, and by a lot overseas.

Which meant that audiences didn’t quite feel the need to toss aside Bond for a new secret agent. The Bourne movies stole some of Bond’s thunder, but the xXx franchise never really got off the ground – though they’ll attempt a resurgence with a new film in 2017.

Maybe that one will work, but the original didn’t. xXx provides a terribly disappointing experience, as it offers one of the weakest major action movies I’d seen in quite a while when it came out in 2002.

xXx quickly introduces its main setting, as we venture to the Czech Republic. There an American agent named McGrath (Thomas Ian Griffith) gets killed at a very boisterous nightclub party hosted by Yorgi (Martin Csokas), the joint’s owner and the leader of a subversive group called Anarchy 99.

McGrath’s death makes him the third spy murdered on the job, and the powers back at the National Security Agency need to think outside the proverbial box. Scar-faced Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) brings up an unorthodox proposal to use the “best and brightest of the bottom of the barrel”: criminals who have the savvy and wherewithal to better integrate into these seeding settings.

We then meet Xander Cage (Vin Diesel), the dude who evokes the “XXX” of the title. An extreme sports superstar, he steals the Corvette owned by State Senator Dick Hotchkiss (Tom Everett), a full-formed prick who opposes everything dear to Xander’s crowd: skateboarding, rap music, and video games. Xander tapes an anti-Dick monologue as he speeds along in the Corvette, which he then destroys in a big stunt.

When authorities capture Xander, he think it’s because of the theft, but in actuality, this occurs at Gibbons’ behest. After Xander wakes, he finds himself in a diner, where he receives a test of his abilities. He passes this, and Gibbons lets him know the deal. Xander then immediately gets sent to Colombia for another test, though this one seems much more real.

Xander aces that challenge as well, and Gibbons gives him an ultimatum. Either Xander joins forces with the NSA as an agent or he goes to jail. Not surprisingly, Xander chooses the latter, and he soon finds himself in Prague, where he meets Yorgi and the rest of the Anarchy 99 crew. This includes Yelena (Asia Argento), a sexy sidekick with whom Xander flirts.

Once Xander proves himself to Yorgi, he becomes part of Anarchy 99. He eventually starts to learn that the organization’s work goes beyond simple drug trafficking and the usual crimes. In fact, Yorgi wants to cause the destruction of all governments and plans to do so with the aid of “Silent Night”, a rather virulent chemical weapon. Naturally, Xander attempts to stop this.

Except for the manner in which Xander joins the ranks of the NSA, you’ll find virtually nothing in this plot synopsis that would seem out of place in a Bond film. That’s because xXx really is a Bond film. Its creators simply doll up the events in a scungier setting and toss in less suave participants all across the board.

That’s right, everything about xXx is extreme - as in, extremely asinine. The movie attempts so hard to become something new and set itself apart from other flicks in the genre that it feels like a seven-year-old at a party who desperately screams and flails as he tries to attract attention. Director Rob Cohen piles on so much aggressive action and music that the whole thing becomes one big incoherent blur after awhile.

Of course, Cohen also wants to make sure we know how much cooler xXx when compared to Bond. The opening scene ensures that during a bit straight out of Goldfinger, Agent McGrath slips out of his work clothes to reveal a tuxedo.

Never mind that True Lies already spoofed this gag eight years earlier. xXx uses it to declare its intentions, for we quickly see how a Bond-esque agent won’t cut it in the modern world.

That scene offers the first of many howlers in which I found it impossible to suspend disbelief. Sure, Bond flicks include scads of scenes that bear no resemblance to real life.

However, I’ll accept all of its absurd stunts and gags before I’ll see the logic in sending a milquetoast white boy in a tux to a party filled with revelers who look like the undead amid the ridiculously aggressive rantings of crappy German rockers Rammstein. How stupid would an agent need to be to think that he’d blend in there while clad in formal attire?

Things get worse with our introduction to Xander. I suppose his theft of the jerky senator’s Corvette is supposed to endear him to us in some sort of revolutionary man of the people way, but frankly, it just makes him look equally horrible.

When we don’t agree with someone, the way to change that is to steal a car and destroy it for one’s own glorification? Sorry, but that just doesn’t cut it for me. Being a prick to a prick doesn’t make one cool.

Granted, xXx is supposed to be a cartoon, so perhaps I should take these things less seriously. However, the movie provides such an aggressively annoying experience that I find it tough to let minor transgressions slide.

I can’t recall the last time I saw a protagonist presented in such a genuinely unlikable manner. Maybe some will see Xander as a cool outlaw anti-hero, but he just seems like an obnoxious buffoon to me.

I used to like Diesel, as I thought he brought heart to roles in The Iron Giant and Saving Private Ryan. However, as he became a bigger star, he started to lose that early warmth and charm.

As Xander, Diesel offers virtually no spark or flair, as he makes the character nothing more than a crass and irritating boor. Not only do I not care about Xander, but also as the film progressed, I actively rooted against him!

It doesn’t help that the script furnishes its characters with some of the worst dialogue ever attempted. God save us from xXx’s attempts at humor.

Actually, save us from all of the film’s atrocious dialogue. From Xander’s wacky “where’s the peanuts?” on board a no-frills military plane to Gibbons’ “a small price that I pay for putting foot to ass for my country”, the movie fills its time with genuinely horrible lines. No one expects scintillating repartee from an action film, but this one sinks to exceedingly low levels.

Perhaps I could forgive much of this if xXx delivered with some cool action, but unfortunately, most of the movie simply seems dull. Admittedly, the film’s climactic segment provides some decent thrills, but the rest of the time it comes across as quite bland.

xXx simply tries too hard to impress us, which undercuts any drama or excitement. Almost nothing stands out, as the material appears very forgettable. 12 hours after I watched the movie, I couldn’t remember much about the stunts, which wasn’t a good sign.

For a movie that wants to distance itself from the world of Bond, xXx works awfully hard to remind us of that legacy. In addition to the opening gag with Agent McGrath, a few other 007 allusions appear.

Most notable is the inclusion of Agent Toby Lee Shavers (Michael Roof), a nerdy MIT-educated version of “Q”. The character feels like nothing more than a pale imitation, as he brings nothing positive to the movie at all.

xXx includes at least one odd and unexpected cinematic allusion. During an early scene in Prague, we see a performance of some zither music that uses the theme from 1949’s The Third Man.

When I watched the movie, I figured the filmmakers did this as another attempt to distance themselves from spies of the past, as the old-time tune soon gave way to more modern rock. However, it seems like a weird move.

The reference will be lost on 99% of the audience that sees xXx, and the one percent that gets it will simply look back longingly on the infinitely superior Third Man, which undercuts the attempt to move toward the future. During his commentary, Cohen explains he meant this as a bow toward Third Man director Carol Reed, but it still makes little sense to me.

Add to all these problems the annoying and apparently unending shots of Xander’s “xXx” tattoo on his neck and xXx offers a decidedly unlikable affair. I’ve seen worse action flicks, but not too many.

This one works so hard to become something new and fresh that it comes across as totally self-conscious and forced. In truth, it brings nothing new to the genre, and it fails to provide anything engaging or interesting.

The Disc Grades: Picture C-/ Audio A-/ Bonus D-

xXx appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. One of the very first Blu-rays to hit the market, the image lacked consistency,

Sharpness was up and down. At times, the movie exhibited adequate delineation, but more than a few soft spots popped up along the way, some of which bordered on severe. For instance, the nighttime chase scene around 24 minutes looked so fuzzy that I actually jumped in my seat due to the surprise.

Most of the movie worked better than that, but the image really did become indistinct more often than one would expect. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns, and I saw no edge haloes. Print flaws seemed absent, but the encoding presented mild artifacts.

The movie went with stylized colors that tended to be less than dynamic. These weren’t bad – not compared to the rest of the image – but they lacked much punch and tended to be on the flat side. Blacks came across as a bit wan and dull, while shadows were usually too dense and stiff. The image was good enough for a “C-: but barely – I easily could’ve dropped this flawed presentation to “D” level.

At least I experienced no problems when I listened to the Uncompressed PCM 5.1 soundtrack of xXx. I expected the mix to offer a non-stop auditory barrage on the senses, and I got exactly that.

The soundfield provided material from all five channels much of the time, and it did so in a fairly aggressive manner. While this could induces headaches at times, it made sense when paired with the movie’s visuals, so I won’t fault the sound designers.

The effects blended together well, especially when various vehicles zoomed around the spectrum. Other pieces moved cleanly across the speakers, and the five channels integrated well to create a clean and concise sense of setting.

Audio quality also seemed solid. Dialogue was natural and crisp, as the lines lacked any issues related to intelligibility or edginess. Music came across as bright and vivid, with nice bass fidelity throughout the film.

Effects presented concise and accurate imagery, as they sounded detailed and distinct. Bass response could have been a little firmer and more visceral, but the low-end content usually seemed quite deep and powerful. Ultimately, xXx didn’t provide one of the all-time great soundtracks, but it worked quite well nonetheless.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the original 2002 DVD? Audio showed a little more pep and range, and visuals seemed somewhat tighter – but not much. The Blu-ray’s image was a minor step up over the DVD but not a major upgrade due to all its issues.

Though the DVD came with a slew of extras, the Blu-ray drops each and every one of them. We get Previews for Stealth, Into the Blue and SWAT - and that’s it!

In its attempts to create a 21st century secret agent, xXx just falls flat and comes across like a lame rehash of better films. A loud and obnoxious affair, the flick tries way too hard to floor us with its “extreme” action, but it does little more than seem inane and pointlessly flashy. The Blu-ray provides excellent audio but it suffers from bland, mushy videos and lacks any supplements. This ends up as a weak release for a bad movie. x

To rate this film, visit the DVD review of xXx

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