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xXx (12A)



Review: Jack Foley

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by director Rob Cohen; xXx: A Filmmakers' Diary; 10 deleted scenes; 'Diesel Powered' featurette; 'Building Speed: The Vehicles of xXx' featurette; Designing the World of xXx' featurette; 3 visual effects 'How To' featurettes; 'Adrenaline' by Gavin Rosdale music video; Theatrical trailer; Weblinks.

THE name’s Cage, Xander Cage, but it doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it? xXx (or triple X) is billed as ‘a new breed of secret agent’, offering a more contemporary approach to the super-spy genre capable of taking action to new extremes.

Yet while the movie is undeniably fun in places, and boasts some suitably over-the-top set pieces, its pre-occupation with attempting to out-Bond 007 invites some fairly obvious comparisons, to which it pales into insignificance.

Vin Diesel (the moody muscle-man of Pitch Black and The Fast and the Furious fame) stars as the secret agent in question, a ‘three-time loser’ and extreme sports enthusiast whose only shot of staying out of prison is to serve his country by working as an expendable agent for the NSA.

Enlisted by Samuel L Jackson’s heavily-scarred NSA veteran, Cage must travel to Prague to infiltrate a gang of adrenalin-junkie thugs, named Anarchy 99, and thwart their plans for world domination, by using his questionable reputation to get close to the group’s leader, Yorgi (Marton Csokas), an ex-Russian army commander.

In so doing, he attracts the eye of Yorgi’s beautiful but streetwise girlfriend, Yelena (Asia Argento), while generally butting heads with everyone from the Czech police to Yorgi’s trigger-happy henchmen.

The difference between xXx and 007, however, is that while Bond is committed to serving Queen and country and conducts his business with a stiff-upper lip and a smattering of charm, Cage’s rugged alternative couldn’t give a damn about saving the world and has all the finesse of a rapper at the opera.

Yet while all the components are in place for a rollicking adventure (from gadgets and babes, to quips and explosions), xXx simply doesn’t cut it quite as spectacularly as it should.

Diesel, in particular, may have bags of charisma when playing the anti-hero, yet the moment he starts to care, he loses his edge, while his inability to deliver a really decent quip places him among the Stallone and Schwarzenegger wannabes, rather than the Connery or Brosnan heroes he clearly aspires to.

A lack of a genuinely great villain with which to trade blows (both physical and verbal) does him no favours, either, while Michael Roof’s Q equivalent, Toby Lee Shavers, lacks any of the qualities which made Desmond Llewellyn so endearing - even his gadgets (rocket-firing cars, binoculars which allow Diesel to see through walls, or beneath clothes) seem borrowed from any spy’s locker-room.

Which leaves us with the babes and the action, where director Rob Cohen’s movie really delivers. Argento, in particular, smoulders as the feisty Yelena (her attitude-laden performance actually gives Diesel a run for his money), while the action is mostly well-staged.

Highlights include the opening stunt involving a car and a bridge, a motorcycle chase through a Colombian drugs field and Cage attempting to out-snowboard an avalanche, and they just about make-up for the gaping lapses in logic (audiences are expected to believe that Cage can dismantle bombs and fire all manner of weapons with less than a week’s training). Yet even they lack the sophistication to poke fun at the genre in the way that the likes of True Lies did, so here's hoping that future films in the series live up to the expectations set for them by director, Cohen, who wants to rip up the Bond template.

Triple X is clearly intended to deliver a secret agent capable of appealing to the X-box generation and goes about delivering its thrills with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer cracking a walnut. It’s fast, furious and incredibly dumb, yet while its success in America has already helped to spawn a sequel and should appeal to die-hard action fans here, viewers will still be left with the opinion than nobody does it better than a certain Mr Bond.

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