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(2002) * 1/2 Pg-13
124 min. Columbia Pictures. Director: Rob Cohen. Cast: Vin Diesel, Samuel L. Jackson, Marton Csokas, Asia Argento, Michael Roof.

Like a local Haunted House attraction, xXx leaps out at you, makes loud noises, and plops your hand in the proverbial plate of cold spaghetti "guts." Superficially, it resembles exhilarating action films of the past, but the paint-by-numbers approach just doesn't do the trick. With all-around bad acting, hyperactive production, and a script that passes "camp" and goes right on through to "bad," xXx goes only to prove how desperate Hollywood is to agressively market Vin Diesel to preteens as the Action Star of the Aughts.

Pandering is unfortunately the word for this reimagining of James Bond as an extreme sportsman. Diesel plays an underground celebrity hoodlum who lusts for the freedom of anarchy until he brings out his inner flag-waver to face evil would-be conquerors while skyboarding, snowboarding, skateboarding, and playing video games. Samuel L. Jackson plays recruiter and badass "M" upgrade Agustus Gibbons; he proves to be useful mostly for shaking his head and saying things like, "Oh, Triple-X..." Asia Argento plays the "mysterious" femme fatale, and Marton Csokas--looking for all the world like an extra from The Crow finally getting his big break--plays Yorgi, a greasy, stubbly, bare-chested, dead-eyed, thick-tongued, tattooed villain. As long as they're going that far, why not give the guy a pet black panther?

But xXx never commits to the spoof it obviously is, preferring to hedge its bets as a serious action entry. This means the choice of Prague as setting (is the whole damn town a Hollywood backlot now?) and lines like "That guy on the bike! That's the drug lord. Let's get him!" are presented with straight faces. Director Rob Cohen (who never met a dutch angle he didn't like) even pitches clueless cinematic references like an extra playing The Third Man's immortal zither theme though neither the setting nor anything else remotely suggests the earlier classic (for the record, Rob, The Third Man was set in Vienna).

In the film's defense, Cohen musters one sit-up-in-your-seat sequence which, like similar sequences in Bond films, springboards over incredulity to sheer adrenalized fun. Again evoking Bond, the sequence entails a snow-capped mountain, a small army of goons, and a series of unnatural and natural disasters. It's almost dumb fun seeing Diesel and Argento saddle up side by side in a souped-up hot rod to chase a missile-bearing ship from an adjoining river road, but it's all too sad watching the usually irrepressible Argento take the Hollywood money and run.

Diesel is, I suppose, the post-modern Stallone, with his low-rumbling "charm" and "sly" humor. Ironically, Diesel was served much better in Cohen's The Fast and the Furious, the sequel to which both star and director passed up; in hindsight, that somewhat ludicrous film plays like gritty and emotional docudrama. xXx will undoubtedly rake in plenty, but I'm not sure we're ready for Diesel to take charge of our big-screen action dreams.

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Aspect ratios: 2.40:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 1/10/2016

Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Sony's xXx: 15th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray release happily upgrades the early, weak 2006 Blu-ray release, which offered lackluster A/V and no bonus features. Video gets an upgrade from the MPEG-2 codec to MPEG-4 AVC, and in the process, one of the worst-looking Blu-ray releases Sony ever released now looks bold in color and tight in detail, with palpable textures and a healthy grain structure retaining a filmic feel. Audio also improves, with the old PCM 5.1 replaced by a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. The tracks show the film's vintage—it's not as nuanced a mix as a contemporary film—but the mix is solid all-around, rumbling to life for the thumping source music, Bondian score, and effects: the big explosions, an avalanche sequence, revving engines, and machine-gun fire, with surround channels offering plenty of activity during those firefights.

Bonus features, some of DVD release vintage and some new, kick off with an audio commentary with director Rob Cohen.

The new featurette "Origins of a Renegade" (6:27, HD) includes talking heads Vin Diesel, Toni Collette, Nina Dobrev, Michael Bisping, Ruby Rose, and Rory McCann, all cast members of the second sequel tasked here with celebrating xXx while promoting xXx: The Return of Xander Cage (which gets a sneak peek).

"xXx: A Filmmaker's Diary—U.S./Pre-Production" (15:27, SD), mostly comprised of raw B-roll set footage, also includes interview clips with Cohen (who also narrates), Vin Diesel, producer Neal Moritz, writer Rich Wilkes, and professional skateboarder Tony Hawk, as well as a few storyboards.

"xXx: A Fimmaker's Diary—Prague/Post-Production" (25:26, SD) follows a similar pattern in recounting the processes of the next two legs of the film.

Also here are numerous other production-themed featurettes, dealing with specific players and sequences: "Diesel Powered" (6:50, SD), "Starz! On the Set: The Making of xXx" (14:32, SD), "Agent Shavers’ Gadget Presentation" (3:55, SD), "Designing the World of xXx" (14:35, SD) "Building Speed: The Vehicles of xXx" (6:55, SD), "Avalanche Scene" (5:37, SD), "Drug Farm" (5:08, SD) and "The End Credit Scene – Raw and Uncut" (3:34, SD).

Three Visual Effects How-To’s featurettes (3:04 with "Play All" option, SD) comprise "Creating the Mountain Avalanche," "Creating an Avalanche," and "Shack Explosion."


While xXx got an extended cut on DVD, this disc makes do with ten "Deleted Scenes" (15:51, SD) that include some of the footage found in that cut. 

Rounding out the disc are the music videos "'I Will Be Heard' by Hatebreed" (3:09, SD) "'Adrenaline' by Gavin Rossdale" (4:18, SD) and the film's "Theatrical Trailer" (2:34, HD).


Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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