xXx (2002)

(In theaters, August 2002) I like Vin Diesel. I think he’s one of the most credible “action heroes” to pop up since the Fall of Schwarzenegger. XXX is nothing but a star vehicle for him, and as such it works very well: The script is copied from a rejected James Bond outline, the dialogues are pedestrian and the direction can be underwhelming at times, but Diesel carries the whole film on his shoulders with impressive ease. Say whatever you want about his range (or perceived lack thereof), but you can’t stop watching him whenever he’s on screen and that, friends, is old-fashioned star power. Remove Diesel and replace him with any of the “action wimps” of the past few years (calling Matt Damon… Ben Affleck… Josh Hartnett…) and suddenly the film becomes far less interesting. Oh, I’m not saying it’s a great film even with Diesel; for all its self-serving rhetoric about being better/more current/more extreme than the Bond series, “Triple-X” Xander Cage is just another copy of Bond, down to the cute chicks, nerdish technical assistant and big stunts. (Actually, the stunts are very impressive, even when they’re digitally enhanced) The techno-rap soundtrack basically defines its public and attitude; you can simply hear the film and decide if it’s going to be for you. It’s fun summer fare, not very ambitious nor too serious about it. I liked it, but I recognize the wide variety of reactions that this movie will elicit.

(Second viewing, On DVD, February 2003) Vin Diesel is a James Bond for teenage boys in this bad-boy story that’s nevertheless more inoffensive than most PG-13 action thrillers. The macho extreme-sport posturing is amusing to watch, but not nearly as amusing as hearing director Rob Cohen try to mythologize this very average action film. But let’s be fair; Cohen is one of the only directors able to sustain a fill-length commentary by himself, and he is genuinely amusing throughout. The film doesn’t gain much at a second glance: The plot, dialogues and villains are still pedestrian. Only Vin Diesel can make this stuff work despite all odds… the true definition of a movie star. The “special edition” DVD contains a few making-of supplements; the “filmmaker’s diary” is interesting, but the others are very fluffy, including -I kid you not- a five-minute ad for the upcoming GTO car. There is a noticeable lack of information about the visual effects, probably because a lot of it involved replacing stuntmen’s faces with Vin Diesel’s own. But you’ll have to read Cinefex in order to learn about it, because nothing can come between Diesel and his mystique…

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