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XXX Files 

by Ed Symkus


Summer. Hmmm. Must be time for another big action movie starring Vin Diesel as a bad guy with a heart of one precious metal or another. It was just about a year ago that he stole a lot of screen time (and cars) in The Fast and the Furious, and here he is back again, stealing more cars, this time not for their parts, but to make a social statement.


Diesel plays Xander Cage, known to friends and enemies as Triple X, or if they get to know him better, just X. An extreme sports athlete with a lousy attitude, he's always just one step away from getting caught by the cops for one indiscretion or another. And he's also the hero of the party-going, beer-drinking, tattoo set.


Then one day... What follows is general American action movie clich & eacute;: American intelligence agency needs this troublemaker for a special job and threatens him with jail if he doesn't do what they say. Big-man-in-agency (in this case a badly scarred -- as in poorly done make-up job -- Samuel L. Jackson, slumming in the role) plays tough but really likes the guy, etc., etc.


But before all of the above, the film gets kick-started by portraying a whole different world. It opens in a crowded European club, filled with hundreds of dancers doing their stuff amid flames and bullets, all under the sonic influence of a frenzy of German thrash rock, all of it lorded over by the sinister Yorgi (Marton Csokas). He is the man XXX is sent to find out about after hitching up, much against his will, with the agency. He is also the man who's eventually shown to be an animal with no regard to human life once he's on the road to, you know, WORLD DOMINANCE THROUGH MASS DESTRUCTION, or something like it.


And so the clich & eacute;s come piling on. There are such visual ones as overused slow-motion shots and the requisite head butt. There are verbal ones: "I've risked my life for a lot of stupid reasons; this is the first one that makes sense to me" and, in reference to one of the film's many cars, "I like anything fast enough to do something stupid in."


But although writer Rich Wilkes, best known for penning The Jerky Boys and Airheads, works just above a level best described as crass and juvenile, director Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious) and Diesel have a very good idea of how to make this whole thing a lot of fun. And up to a point, they succeed magnificently. Diesel goes at the part with wide-eyed, deep-voiced enthusiasm. His acting chops may be put on hold here -- he's great in Saving Private Ryan, Boiler Room and the upcoming Knockaround Guys -- and his performance is wooden, but then wooden works perfectly in this kind of thing. His character goes through all kinds of physical challenges here, and yet he hardly breaks a sweat.


And -- here's an understatement -- Cohen likes action. He pours it on, so much so, that the film eventually becomes numbing. When it's in danger of running out of steam, Cohen digs even deeper and pulls off one of the best avalanche scenes ever filmed, then ups the energy to another level before letting it smooth out for the expected ending.


The movie's plot is all over the place. XXX is sent to Prague to meet with the bad guys and infiltrate their stolen car ring, which soon leads to that world-dominance business, which eventually introduces him to the film's love interest, the slinky Yelena (Italian actress Asia Argento, daughter of director Dario Argento), who really knows how to wear a pair of fishnet stockings. But nothing very believable comes of their relationship.


All of this leans awfully close to James Bond territory, and that's even before the introduction of XXX's special GTO (which makes Bond's Aston Martin look like a Matchbox car) or his cache of weapons, including blood-spatter darts, detonators disguised as bandages and "penetrater binoculars."


There's no nudity and minimal swearing in the film, which is how it earned the PG-13 rating. But there's a boatload of action and violence. If that isn't enough, it's all pumped up by a brash, high-decibel rock soundtrack. And if that isn't enough, there's one of those "magic" moments where everything stops, and two of the male characters discover that they have something in common by reciting, in unison, the lyrics to Anarchy Burger by the Vandals. Now that's onscreen chemistry.

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