Marketed as the heir to the Bond franchise throne, XXX features heroes, chases, babes and gadgets. Note that unlike most Bond films it does not feature compelling heroes, thrilling chases, intriguing babes, and ingenious gadgets. Everything about XXX comes from such generic story elements used so many times in movies like this that they qualify under public domain and fair use laws.
XXX revolves around extreme sports legend/political prankster Xander Cage (possibly the silliest name of a summer that has brought us Pistachio Disguisy and Kit Fisto). Cage apparently makes his living stealing the vehicles of cartoonishly racist politicians, destroying them and webcasting the stunt as a Pay-Per-View. In the classic Dirty Dozen gambit, a pardon for service deal comes from wily veteran NSA Agent Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson in the leftovers from his Unbreakable wardrobe and the make-up he wore in Kiss Of Death). In the course of his duties, reluctant hero Cage snowboards down a mountain (in the fakest digital stunt since the wave in Escape from LA), battles some anarchists that look a lot like General Zod and Co. and eventually saves Prague, which is obviously the lynchpin for any anarchist world plot.
Like the nun says, "Let's start at the very beginning." A jumpsuit clad blond man strips off his flight suit to reveal a tuxedo and ducks into a German death metal club where sniper fire cuts him down and his body rides away atop the mosh pit. I can only assume that this was intended to signal that the Bond era is over and a tuxedo clad Anglo-Saxon can't survive in the a modern climate. However all I could do throughout this entire sequence was pray for the Body Double punch line.
This opening sequence sent me into the panicky state that can only mean one thing, a Batman and Robin flashback, wherein I spent the entire opening sequence praying that we were about to pull back to reveal that we were watching Batman and Robin on Ice™ and opening the door for the meta-discussion of the over-merchandizing of The Dark Knight throughout Gotham. Likewise I watched XXX's clunky Bond dismissal thinking it could only be this lame if we were about to hear the director call, "Cut" and reveal that our hero was under the blonde wig earning some extra coin as a stunt double, leading us into that "this isn't a movie, this is real life" territory.
No such luck. This lame, badly cut, stupid opening sequence simply sets the stage for an equally lame, badly cut, stupid movie. The wannabe Q (Joe Bucaro, who I'm convinced got runner-up when they cast the Fandango Guy) describes his latest brilliant gadget, x-ray binoculars, as "every little boy's dream." The main problem infecting XXX is that it is precisely that, A Little Boy's Dream. While its structure mutters 007, its pacing screams 7-year-old with the remote. If a bit of plot should slow down the pretty pictures there is a cry of "BO-RING!" and the little shaver chapter-skips to more loud noises.
In the key of pretty pictures, let me point out the horribly grainy images in every scene in a low light situation (i.e. a love scene treated with an attitude akin to, "Eew! Kissing!"). Seemingly, the digital "revolution" has led to such a cavalier stance on resolution that no one remains in Hollywood who can light and shoot in anything less than full light, or at least there's no one left who cares. A similar attitude has already robbed 95% of films made of anything like good editing, so I guess it is all to be expected.
Enough of this technical talk, let us to the fanboy gripes. First off, if you ignore all this crime scene tape and you still venture into the mire, try to keep track of something for me. How long does this adventure take? Apparently, it is not so long that Cage's stubble (both head and face, it is Vin Diesel after all) changes, but long enough for the weasely guy who looks like Val Kilmer's younger brother to recover completely from a broken nose.
Secondly, take a look at the dart that knocks out Cage. The second it showed up, I was curious how a modern-day Earth spy was going to be able to trace it back to the cloner world from which it came. Speaking of other films, the car fanboy in me has to say that to go from a '70 Charger in The Fast and The Furious (Diesel and director Rob Cohen's first teaming) to a '67 Goat really feels like a step down.
In fact, the whole picture feels like a step down from everything. The anarchic attitude that made The Fast and The Furious so appealing becomes the enemy in XXX. Early on, title-songstress Eve (ah, synergy casting), who seemingly works as Xander's business manager, chides a video game exec that Cage will never "sell out," and then turns around to tell Cage to get out of town as the pre-sales on the Pay-Per-View were through the roof. His catch phrase is "Welcome to the Xander Zone" which I can only assume is spelled "Xander Xone" to go along with his oh-so-hip iMac pastel color-coded spy bullets.
Listen to Diesel on Leno and he'll tell you that Xander Cage is an Anti-Hero, but really, he is the anti-anti-hero. Like Tim Robbins' Bob Roberts, the notions of cool rebellion are perverted into a seductive face for the establishment. XXX takes the super-spy format and sanitizes it into the corporate approved format that has brought us The X-Games and Top 40 Punk Rockers.
Take for example a scene in which the villain in the Odd Job/ Jaws role buys the farm via exploding motorcycle. That would be a great stunt and possibly even interesting to see, but we just get a comical rain of bloodless motorcycle parts lest the studios risk pushing their PG-13 rating. Sure, the Bond pictures have never had a higher rating than the 13 either, but between the gadgets and the derring-do was a story about a man with a purpose, not just a mission.
Still undaunted? Then look forward to wasted cameos from Tony Hawk and the baddest man alive, Danny Trejo.
The whole thing reeks of silliness and if not so ineptly handled might have even been fun in that late-summer-matinee kind of way. Wanting to cure what ails James Bond and his peers sounds like a noble cause, but the 007 franchise sits on a stable foundation on the shore of a slowly expanding fetid swamp that eventually poisons anything nearby. Instead of going to the other side of the lagoon, XXX cannonballs into the dead center of the slime and filth and looks to us to cheer it on. Sadly, this film will simply bore all but the most infantile fans of kinetic action for kinetic action's sake.
What's it worth? $1.50