Guest Writer: Ted Berg
I might be the wrong guy for this assignment because I don’t harbor any guilt over any of the movies I enjoy. Movies are made for entertainment, and pleasure is pleasure. Sure, a thought-provoking film might hold my attention after the credits stop rolling — entertaining me over a longer period of time — but a good blockbuster full of high-speed chases and tremendous explosions can provide a thorough and enrapturing aesthetic experience like few others.
I know a lot of European cinema supposedly developed in reaction to the escapism of Hollywood, but I don’t really understand the beef with escapism. I’ve seen a bunch of Italian Neorealist films, and nearly all of them bored me to sleep and not one featured a giant ape wrestling dinosaurs. Sure, Peter Jackson’s King Kong was a bit heavy-handed and hardly provoked introspection, but it held me in a vice grip throughout because, well, apes wrestling dinosaurs. And yeah, it might have lacked the subtleties of L’Avventura, but subtlety is for suckers. Give me movies that fully exploit the medium.
xXx opens with a suave dude in a tuxedo doing some spy stuff at an obvious bad-guy party featuring a Rammstein performance. His presence is too obvious and inexplicable in a mosh pit full off tattooed and pierced fire-breathers, and the leader-guy bad guys spot him swiftly and kill him handily. Then they light some drinks on fire to celebrate.
Cut to NSA headquarters in Virginia and the film’s big reveal: This movie has Samuel L. Jackson in it. And for some reason that is never explained, his face is all scarred up. He’s some sort of NSA honcho, and he argues that the standard NSA field agent is too polished and clean-cut to infiltrate the post-Soviet Rammstein-enthusiast set that the agency is targeting. The NSA needs a talented agent who can pass for a thug, so why not just hire some thug?
As Samuel L. Jackson states eloquently: “Do we want to drop another mouse in a snakepit, or do we want to send our own snake and let him crawl in?”
Somewhere else, adrenaline junkie Vin Diesel steals the Corvette of a pathetic white guy. He attaches a video camera to the hood and explains that his theft victim is a senator who campaigned against rap music and video games as negative influences on youth. Crusader Vin Diesel demonstrates that those things have not influenced him negatively by leading cops in a high-speed pursuit then driving his stolen Corvette off a bridge. He parachutes to safety at the last moment and is picked up by a bunch of cool-guy cohorts who clearly worship Vin Diesel.
Later, at a party, we find out that Vin Diesel’s name is Xander Cage, presumably because they wanted to call the movie xXx and because it was difficult to come up with something more badass-sounding than “Vin Diesel.” We learn that his anti-authority stunt videos have made him an Internet star, but that he will not ever sell out, even to the beautiful video-game producer practically throwing herself at him.
NSA agents crash the party and tranquilize Vin Diesel. He wakes up in a diner, where he immediately thwarts a robbery. Then he explains all the reasons he knew the robbery was staged, prompting a slow clap from an impressed Samuel L. Jackson. Samuel L. Jackson admits it was a test and Vin Diesel passed with flying colors. So they tranquilize him again.
This time, Vin Diesel and two other dudes are thrown out of a helicopter into a Colombian drug war headed by Danny Trejo. He thinks it’s just another one of Samuel L. Jackson’s tests, but realizes it’s more serious when the Colombian army shows up and blows up Danny Trejo’s car. It turns out all the buildings, even the old decrepit barns and coke storage facilities, must be filled with gunpowder or tanks of gasoline or something, because they all start blowing up. It’s awesome. Vin Diesel escapes after stealing a moped, jumping over a bunch of stuff and using the wheel of the moped to nail a bad guy in the face. He also saves one of the other guys, who he’s now loyal to for some reason.
But it turns out that though the coke war was real, the whole thing was just another one of SLJ’s tests after all. Now Vin Diesel has to choose between being an NSA agent and going to jail for the Corvette thing, and he is swayed toward the former by a long SLJ monologue about caged lions that I should probably use for my next audition.
From there, it proceeds about as you’d expect: Amazingly. Vin Diesel goes to the Czech Republic — home of the Rammstein fans, who turn out to be anarchists hellbent on destroying large cities with biological weapons to create worldwide chaos. Oh, and at some point Vin Diesel picks up a hilarious Sherpa coat. The leader of the bad guys has a beautiful girlfriend, but it turns out she has a heart of gold, then it turns out she’s also a double-agent. She kisses Vin Diesel and doesn’t seem to mind that he slobbers all over her like a goon.
Oh, and there are x-ray binoculars, boardslides using silver serving trays, a dance club clearly designed by Tesla, and an underground scientist massacre. By the end (SPOILER ALERT!), Vin Diesel is a master military tactician even though he has only been working for the NSA for like three days. He also induces an avalanche and then races it on his snowboard.
The script pretty closely mimics the standard spy-thriller fare, only with more action-sports skills, bigger explosions and sweatier villains.
We romanticize the old Bond films and wonder why the new ones suck so much. But bad guys no longer wear bowties. The debonair, tuxedoed spy-movie hero has been floored by a drop kick to the face from Jason Statham. It’s intentional and awesome that a Bond lookalike is shot and killed in the opening scene of xXx. Out with the old, in with Vin Diesel.