Your mission, Vin, should you choose to accept it...
...say "hi" to the Next Generation of Super Spy
Taking a look at the Movie
At first glance xXx might not sound like much of anything except just another action flick, yet more celluloid devoted to a testosterone filled ride that's not really about anything, but that you can all enjoy while experiencing the moment, and forget once you step out of the cinema... not so.
In brief, it's about an independant extreme sports star with a reckless streak and an anarchist's spirit who is recruited from the fringe edges of society to become the NSA's next secret spy.
A bit far fetched? Yep. But if you've seen the movie, then you've seen the stunts. There's far fetched. Haven't seen the movie yet? Wait until Xander Cage outruns an avalanche on a snowboard!
This new, very unlikely secret agent gets as his first mission the job of infiltrating an organisation composed of ex-military Russian extremists. Why? He has been told to uncover their links to a missing Russian project code named "Silent Night".
That's the film, in a couple of paragraphs. But it hardly begins to tell the story.
xXx isn't Academy Award winning fare, nor is it a particularly brilliant story. Like most films these days of the action genre, it's flow is very convientient and rarely if ever surprising, and it is of course filled with the cliche language and cliche action that we all groan at, but Hollywood keeps throwing at us anyway. But despite the cliches, it is a lot of fun. And fun seems to be the keyword the director, writers and actors were hoping to bring to the silver screen.
xXx starts with two great scenes.
In a bold declaration of war, a James Bondesque spy obtains a computer chip and to avoid capture breaks into a concert where a few hundred rabid teenagers and young adults mosh themselves to death amidst an array of bald heads, studded collars, mowhawks and a band that spews flame at them!
The music is pumping - an industrial, thrash, punk metal conglomeration that really hits the audience in the face with it's amazing and captivating obnoxious energy.
The spy - dressed in a tux - wades through the throng of pressing bodies toward the stage, and the exit that lies off stage. He manages to get up on stage where he is shot by one of the films antogonists, and falls backward into the crowd. The crowd of course thinks he wants to crowd surf and ablige him. Another of the films antagonists gets the chip off the dead spy, and the scene ends in a cacophany of noise.
It's a funny, if not overly obvious way to lay down a challenge to the James Bond films.
The next scene is my personal favourite, and follows straight after the one above.
Vin Diesel's character, Xander Cage, 'obtains' the sportscar of a backward, anal Californian politician and drives it off the edge of a very high bridge. Why? He's imparting a message to 'Dick', the politician, and it's a message which is actually pretty cool. I won't go into it, Xander says it far better than I ever could, and besides... I wouldn't want to spoil every part of the movie for you!
Xander, and his team of cameramen and assistants, film the 'stunt' to be broadcast over the Internet, and help him to escape after he parachutes off the falling car to safety, while it crashes in an impressive explosion at the bottom of a canyon, law enforcement agents looking on from above.
The way the scene is filmed is great. There's a feel of freshness and of something new about it all. It sets up the rest of the movie brilliantly... but I'm still undecided as to whether or not the film actually lives up to the set up!!!???
Because from there on, the movie enters cliche-ville.
The script could have used some work from one of Hollywood's infamous script doctors - I would have personally recommended Carrie Fisher - her brilliant sense of humour and unique view of the world would have added a much needed additional layer to the film, and that's it's only real problem. It's not really unique enough. But despite the flaws inherant in the script, the direction and camera work is by and large excellent. The scenes are well edited together, and flow easily.
Perhaps the most brilliant part of the film, despite it's energy, and despite Vin Diesels mostly excellent performance, is Asia Argento - the films female lead.
She's beautiful, intelligent, convincing, and able to rise above some of the films weaker moments.
I'm probably making this review sound like I hated the movie - I didn't, I loved it... enough to see it more than once. Seeing it more than once though was the problem - the film student in me came to the fore, and the holes and areas where things might have been better began to show.
The first time, I was blown away. The second time I really enjoyed it, but stuff I paid a little more attention to the dialogue, the direction, and the effects.
In my personal opinion, the films greatest assets were its lead actors.
Let's talk about them!
For the most part, the acting was excellent.
Vin Diesel never ceases to amaze me. There were moments in the film where he seemed to be uncomfortable with the at times banal dialogue - but never the less, he pulled it all off with skill and dedication. Vin has created a living, breathing, real new character with Xander Cage, and though this character may not have as much room to grow as Riddick from Pitch Black, there is still enough in Xander for some really interesting exploration in the xXx sequel. The character is a bit stereotyped, but that's not really the actors fault. It's going to be interesting to see where Diesel and Cohen go with the development of this character, and what challenges they chose to throw at Vin as an actor.
Asia Argento also seemed now and again a little uncomfortable with her dialogue. But like Vin, she is astonishing as an actor, Asia is a real find. She made something of a role that in the hands of a lesser actress would have had the character of Yelena as nothing much more than set dressing.
Martin Csokas as Yorgi was the perfect villian for this film. His casting was a moment of inspiration, as he compliments Vin and is believable as someone passionately angered by what he sees as a betrayel of his beloved motherland. He didn't have a great deal to do in the movie, but what he did do he did very well.
Yorgi was nothing much more than a walking stereotype with greasy hair and very bad boots, but Martin took Yorgi to a few deep places with his acting talent.
As a bad guy, he made me hate him, and that's always a good sign of a great performance.
Samuel L Jackson, as Agent Augustus Gibbons, could never be anything but brilliant. Gibbons is actually a very interesting character. His dialogue is spot on, his actions are calculated and make sense, his motivation is obvious - with still a few shades left for us discover.
Jackson plays the character with real talent.
There isn't much you can say about Samuel L Jackson that hasn't already been said. Suffice it to say, he is an incredible actor who helped to bring xXx up out of mediocre land.
These four actors make the film, more than the stunts, and more than the special effects. Many of the stunts are simply unbelievable, but thank everything Holy, the actors and their performances ARE believeable, and that keeps you watching, and that makes repeated viewings of the film more fun than they might normally be!
What would I give the film, as a fan of Vin and a fan of the action genre?
For entertainment value? 4 out of 5
As a film in an of itself? 3 out of 5 I prefered Pitch Black!
But if I sit down and push Vin's breakaway role as Riddick out of my head, I think it really deserves a 4 out of 5 because it really does deliver.
It's not meant to be an Academy Award winning film, and though all film is a work of art, it's not interested in being arty or overly clever visually. As a film, it works, and it works hard to make us enjoy it.
The recruitment of Cage got a bit too much, and the climax wasn't as climactic as it could have been, but the film did work, I will no doubt watch it again when it comes to DVD, and I will line up for tickets to watch the sequel.
Direction? 4.5 Rob Cohen is a very talented director!
Dialogue? 2.5 Sorry... but it's got some really bad dialogue in places!
Editing? 4.5 The film is very well put together.
VFX? 4.5 Especially the end title sequence. WOW!
Stunts? 5 They were bloody excellent!
Music? 4.5 Brilliant choices, especially the songs. Sadly at times it sounded a little James Bondish. I'm undertain if that's a homage, or not!
Cliche Rating? 4
It's a great film, it's incredible fun, and even if you hate action films, give this one a go!
There's still more to come...