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XXX (2002)

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XXX marks the re-teaming of Vin Diesel and director Rob Cohen, who last year paired up for the surprise hit The Fast and the Furious. It also marks the official arrival of Diesel as one of Hollywood's biggest stars and the action star of the moment.

Of course, anyone who saw Pitch Black knows Diesel has a presence onscreen that is unlike any other in recent memory. He simply commands your attention. And with his first full-scale starring vehicle weighing in with a budget of just over $90 million, all eyes are indeed on him.

Diesel plays Xander Cage, aka XXX, an extreme sports enthusiast who get recruited by the NSA's Agent Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson). After several operatives die trying to infiltrate and obtain intelligence regarding a seedy criminal organization called Anarchy 99, Gibbons quips, "You don't send in a mouse to deal with snakes, you send in your own snake." The upside of the deal for XXX, he gets to avoid a long prison sentence for some of his more extreme and reckless stunts.

Initially hesitant, XXX gets into spy mode pretty quickly. He effortlessly goes undercover in Prague, while enjoying the requisite amount of spy gadgets galore and hot European babes. What makes XXX different from any other spy movie we've seen is the extreme nature of the hero's stunts and the reckless abandon with which he lives for them.

The plot is largely inconsequential. A terrorist group is plotting to turn the major powers of the world against one another so that chaos and anarchy will reign. XXX must stop them before it's too late. It's pretty much that simple. But chances are you're not going into this for the plot. More likely, you're going to see it because you've been promised nearly nonstop action and death-defying stunts. And on those levels, it certainly delivers. If ever a movie represented style over substance, it's XXX - and I say that as lovingly as possible, as I hold the prototypical summer popcorn movie in very high regard.

The movie does have its flaws, though, even when viewed as simply a fun summer movie. I found the soundtrack and score to be just too much at times, and some of the dialogue could have been a lot better. I'm sure many critics will say the fact this movie will make hordes of money is a sad indictment of modern culture, or modern filmmaking, etc., but if so, then I guess I too am guilty. Because sometimes - just sometimes - leaving your brain at the door is a great thing, and I personally will be anxiously awaiting further installments in this series. So is Xander Cage the new James Bond? Probably not, but he is pretty damn cool.

- Rafael "Ultra Magnus" Pujals

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XXX
Directed by:
Rob Cohen
Written by:
Rich Wilkes
Starring:
Vin Diesel
Samuel L. Jackson
Eve
Asia Argento
Marton Csokas
Joe Bucaro