Thursday, September 1, 2011

xXx (2002)

Rob Cohen, 2002
Starring: Vin Diesel, Asia Argento, Samuel L. Jackson, Marton Csokas

Absolutely everything about this film is ridiculous. Almost offensively ridiculous. In the event that you haven't seen it, let me quickly rehash the plot.

Xander Cage (Diesel), an anarchistic extreme sports celebrity, is busted by the cops for a recent stunt that involved driving a senator's car off of a bridge. He is recruited by Samuel L. Jackson and the NSA to spy on ex-Russian Army terrorists in Prague involved in an organization called Anarchy 99. They have wild parties by night, but during the day develop a plot to overthrow all major European cities. Can Xander stop them? Does he even care?

If you are planning to watch this movie because you expect it to have reasonable dialogue or a plot that makes sense just stop right now. This is the type of movie where you absolutely have to switch your brain off -- and if you can, you're in for a pleasant surprise. Or not. I can't really defend xXx. It's kind of a piece of shit, but I also really love it. There are some amazing cars, explosions, fisticuffs, secret agents, a Prague setting, Asia Argento, Samuel L. Jackson, and, depending on whether you like him or not, Vin Diesel, hamming it up and seemingly having a sense of humor about it all. The acting and dialogue are terrible. There are some scenes where Asia Argento looks like she's about to burst out laughing.

But why does that have to matter in Big Dumb Action Movie Land? There are certain films that work because everything that could go wrong does and I think this is one of them. In no reasonable universe should I be entertained by this plot, but I am. It's almost as if a 10 year old boy made a list of awesome shit in action/espionage films and jammed them into one script with no regard to sense or plausibility. There are also some pretty enjoyable stunts, though unfortunately Vin Diesel's stunt double actually died during filmmaking. This occurred during a scene at the end of the film when Xander, code name is XXX in case I failed to mention that, has to rappel down from a speeding car onto a moving submarine.

The thing that really boggles my mind about the film is its attitude towards women. Misogyny abounds in action and horror cinema. I'm used to it, I expect it, and generally ignore it. In xXx, it's particularly strange. Women are kept around by Anarchy 99 for parties, presumably hired women, and are referred to in ways that you might expect, such as one thrilling scene where a business deal is over and it's time to party, so a character yells, "Bitches, come." What's weird about it is that there is very little nudity or sexual interaction. There aren't a lot of babes hanging around, other than a scene where Xander returns to his bedroom after a night of partying and Anarchy 99 have graciously left him a hooker who uses the ornately carved corner of a wooden poster bed to briefly pole dance. But Argento's character, Yelena, an ice cold double agent who has maneuvered her way into dating the head of Anarchy 99, seems to control their finances and can kick some serious ass when it comes down to it. It almost seems like the film is going through the motions with its misogyny and it feels so cartoonish that is just doesn't seem real.

If you like big dumb action movies, this is a decent one. It especially sweetens the deal if you're into either extreme sports or espionage thrillers, as there's a lot of both thrown in for good measure. This is the fancy special edition, which is so cheap it's almost worth buying instead of renting. Make sure you have lots of beer and popcorn on hand.

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