Diesel takes the action hero to new extremes

Preview by Jack Foley

IT SEEMS everybody wants to be James Bond nowadays. No sooner has Ben Affleck finished saving the world from nuclear fall-out, and Matt Damon has re-discovered his identity, then along comes another 007-wannabe, this time played by Vin (The Fast and the Furious) Diesel.

xXx, aka Xander Cage, sets its stall out from the start, to out-Bond 007. Yet for all of its Box Office pulling power (and the movie has helped its distributor, Columbia Tristar, break records this year), critics may have been shaken by the stunts on show, but they haven't exactly been stirred into writing good reviews (see below).

Director Rob Cohen believes xXx, which co-stars Samuel L Jackson, has given birth to a new breed of action hero - a testosterone-fuelled, adrenalin-junkie who really doesn't want to save the world. Or, as Diesel himself puts it, 'he's a nihilist recruited to save the world'.

All this makes for extremely good fun in the action stakes, and certainly builds on Diesel's emerging reputation as an anti-hero (witness, also, his turn in Pitch Black), while also guaranteeing the character his own franchise (a sequel has already been commissioned).

So what can we expect? Well, the stunts include a snowboarding sequence, death-defying leaps from cars and planes, a motorcycle chase sequence... you name it. xXx is clearly intended, from its trailer alone, to appeal to the surfer/boarding types, giving them a quick fix of adrenalin-rush cinema without ever really providing much to chew on.

For Diesel, the challenge of taking on the role of Cage lay in the fact that this was a guy who is solely concerned with his own thrill-seeking endeavours. He is not political, and he doesn't care about making the right sort of impression. His mission is just another excuse to indulge in his passion for all things extreme.

In order to prepare for the physical challenges of taking on the role, however, Diesel had to undergo months of preparation, including motocross training, snowboard training, ski climbing, Navy SEAL training, and something he describes as the extreme sports version of weightlifting for three months.

The chance to work alongside Samuel L Jackson also came as a bonus, while the actor confesses to having formed an excellent working relationship with director Cohen.

And as for the franchise? Diesel went into the project expecting it to create one. He says he had to choose between xXx and The Fast and the Furious sequel, but felt that the latter did not lend itself to becoming a franchise. xXx, however, was a different matter and he is clearly looking forward to returning to the role - as are audiences, judging by their reaction to it in America, where the movie has so far made a cool £131 million.

Prior to that, however, the busy actor is licking his lips at the prospect of playing Hannibal, while also returning to the role of Riddick, his Pitch Black character, for David Twohy's eagerly-anticipated follow-up, Chronicles With Riddick.

xXx opens in UK cinemas on October 17.

What the US critics thought:

The positive reviews for xXx were few and far between, with even the glowing reviews finding something to complain about. E! Online led the way by stating that the movie 'delivers the thrills - even if Diesel can't deliver his lines to save his life', while Salon described it as 'brash, chaotic and jostlingly entertaining'.

Of a more mixed nature was the LA Weekly, which said that xXx 'gives good action (amid more tired spy business) but comes riddled with contradictions', while the New York Post described it as 'pumped-up, dumbed-down Bond, with tattoos instead of brains' and awarded it two stars out of four.

The New York Times appears to have tapped into its target audience, by declaring that it is 'guaranteed to coax delirious oohs and ahhs from the PlayStation crowd', while Slant Magazine said that it was 'more expertly-made trash from director Rob Cohen'.

However, more vitriolic were the likes of Entertainment Weekly, which urged viewers to 'run, run for your lives' and awarded it a D. The Boston Phoenix said that the movie is 'a sometimes jaw-dropping, mostly eye-numbing exercise in explosions and high-speed chases', while People wrote it off as being 'more like Zzz'.

Reel Views said that xXx was 'proof positive that it's easier to fail than succeed with the James Bond formula', while Reel.com felt that it 'doesn't live up to the hype'.

The Chicago Tribute gets the last word, however, describing it as 'pre-sold and critic proof', obviously guessing that the movie would find a massive audience no matter what was written about it.

It seems, critically, James Bond can still sleep easy at night (or at least until Die Another Day arrives in November), but in terms of Box Office, the world may not be big enough for two super-spies. xXx has laid down the gauntlet, can 007 now match him?

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