Monday, June 10, 2013

Review: xXx (2002)

xXx (2002)



A few weeks ago, in my review of Fast & Furious 6, I talked at length about the early-mid '00s trend of youth-focused movies with plots oriented around action sports (snowboarding, motocross, skateboarding, etc.) in some form or another. Last night, I had the opportunity to revisit one of the films that, along with the original The Fast and the Furious, helped to drive that trend: the spy thriller xXx, about an underground, Johnny Knoxville-meets-Tony Hawk daredevil who gets recruited by the NSA to take down an anarchist terror cell in exchange for having his rap sheet scrubbed clean. The "extreme" posturing here is oftentimes just as unintentionally hilarious as I had predicted it would be in my Fast & Furious 6 review, especially given that so much of it comes off as what TV Tropes calls "reactionary fantasy" -- exploiting an "anti-establishment" pop culture trend and its followers while simultaneously criticizing its underpinnings and taking on what could only be described as a pro-establishment worldview. The entire film is about Vin Diesel's Xander Cage taking down a group of "hardcore", hard-partying, punk-rock terrorists who want to bring anarchy and total freedom to the world, using a gun that fires tranquilizer darts with fake blood splatter (so no moral ambiguity about having to shoot your allies to maintain your cover; so much for being an edgier take on James Bond), and ultimately becoming a permanent member of the NSA who goes on secret assignments to uphold the American Way that he had once railed against.

However, for all of this film's phony attitude, I was able to easily forgive it, as there was hardly a dull moment in sight. The plot is flimsy, full of holes, and nothing to write home about, serving largely to drive the action on display here, but oh, the action looks glorious. Outside of the avalanche scene and its dodgy CGI, most of this movie is done with practical effects, and they thunder across the screen like the craziest stunt video ever filmed. The extreme sports showcases are the clearest example of this, with dirt bikes, snowboards, and more being used for some badass displays of athleticism. Just when it looked as though this film was getting dull, it threw another crazy trick up on the screen. It helps that I was able to buy Vin Diesel as an extreme sports badass; even though I knew it was mostly stuntmen doing the work for him, I could picture this guy riding a serving tray down a stairway railing like a skateboard.

I also thought that this film's cheekier jabs at the Bond movies were pretty entertaining. There's the opening scene where a Bond-esque agent in a tuxedo gets killed because he stood out at a Rammstein concert (another thing: I loved this film's soundtrack) filled with metalheads and mosh pits. Less obvious but just as funny was how the climax hinged on the fact that Xander's Pontiac GTO full of rocket launchers, flamethrowers, and other Bond movie weapons was useless for taking down the terrorists' submarine and its bioweapons, and that to stop it, he'd have to go into the Xander Zone and pull a parasailing stunt in the middle of Prague. These jabs were somewhat undercut, however, by the aforementioned phoniness of the film's attitude, as well as the obligatory "gadget showcase" scene where Xander receives a series of spy gadgets that are often nearly identical to things that Bond himself has used (such as the X-ray binoculars that inevitably get used to see through women's clothes).

Score: 3 out of 5

Its "hardcore" posturing is fake and at times hilarious, but I still enjoyed this for the entertaining action movie that it was. I picked this up in a bargain bin for five bucks, so it's worth the price if you're a fan of extreme sports or action movies in general.

No comments:

Post a Comment