7/2/07

R005 xXx

(2002, Action-Spies, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson

Is there any movie that can't be made better by a random orgy of pointless violence?

Rating: ***1/2

In a nutshell:

A maverick spymaster recruits an extreme sports thug to save the world.

Summary:

PG-13, actually.In the Czech Republic, an American spy steals a microchip from a random filthy guy in the trashy part of town, and then changes into an inconspicuous tuxedo. He is recognized and pursued almost immediately, finally meeting his end in a burny German shouting festival (courtesy of Berlin industrial band Rammstein.) Later, his beleaguered intelligence superiors call in a spy specialist named Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) who suggests that elegantly trained secret agents might not be the best choice to infiltrate a gang of hard-rockin' Eastern Europeans. To get this job done, they need to recruit a different sort of agent…

Cut to extreme sports star Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) as he films himself stealing and wrecking a politician’s car to make a point about how video games and rap music don’t turn people into criminals. Paramilitary troops break up the wrap party; they bring Xander down with a tranquilizer dart. He wakes slumped against the bar in a cheap diner, just in time to witness a robbery. Xander sees inconsistencies in the patrons’ dress and behavior; he beats a few people up, secure in the knowledge that everything around him is fake. This is confirmed by Gibbons, who shows up afterwards to explain that he’s just passed his first spy test, and now must take a second. A false waitress darts him again.

This time he wakes up just in time to get shoved out the back of a low-flying plane. He and his fellow examinees land somewhat painfully in a Columbian cocaine field, where they are quickly captured by drug farmers. They assume this to be another fake—until the head cocaine farmer tries to cut Xander’s nose off with a machete. Xander and his cohorts fight back as Colombian army helicopters fly in to pepper the compound with bullets. Explosions and improbable dirt bike stunts ensue. Xander and a wounded cohort escape the mayhem only to be captured again by Gibbon’s men. Gibbons offers to wipe Xander’s criminal record clean in exchange for a job in Eastern Europe. Xander replies with insults and curses, but eventually agrees.

A weasely Czech policeman picks up Xander in Prague, and takes him out to the nightclub hangout of terrorist group Anarchy 99. Xander brushes off his escort by exposing him to the terrorists, who throw the policeman out. Having gained their trust, he makes a deal to buy stolen cars and then parties the night away. One of the terrorists is a fan of his criminal extreme sports videos, and proceeds to spill relevant personal info on all his terrorist cohorts. Having fulfilled his mission, Xander emails the information to Gibbons and asks for extraction. Gibbons refuses; in a single night Xander has gotten further than any of the previous agents sent. He needs to insinuate himself further into their trust to find out what they’re planning. Gibbons sends a Q-esque gadget expert to make sure Xander is properly outfitted for the task.

Next evening, Xander meets the chief terrorist Yorgi and his hot financial specialist Yelena (Asia D’Argento) to pick up his stolen cars. The weasely secret policeman follows to spy on them, but pushes out a warehouse window by accident. Xander helps the terrorists pursue him, and then saves his life by shooting him with a tranquilizer/fake blood bullet. Yorgi congratulates him on the shot and welcomes him into his terrorist fold.

The secret agent version of Meet Cute.Xander spends the night in Anarchy 99’s fortress/villa, and gets up early to snoop. He catches Yelena taking pictures of Yorgi’s secret stuff. They scuffle; he disarms her and then lets her go. They go to lunch where she discovers her former KGB-ness. The Russians sent her to investigate the terrorists, but several political upheavals later, her superiors have all died/been reassigned and now no one in Russia even remembers she’s here. Xander confesses his American Agent-ness and promises to get her asylum in the United States in exchange for her help.

While they’re discussing details, Yorgi calls Yelena on her cell phone. He’s discovered that Xander is working for the U.S., and he needs her to escort Xander outside where he can be taken out by a sniper. Xander accompanies her out, but blinds the sniper with a shiny tea tray and escapes. American agents escort him to meet Gibbons at the opera. Gibbons says Xander is done. His cover has been compromised and he needs to leave Prague. Xander refuses; Yelena has promised to find out the information they need in exchange for his help, and he won’t abandon her. He returns to his apartment.

The weasely Czech policeman is waiting. He’s peeved about the way Xander has treated him, and has sold him out to the terrorists. Yelena arrives in time to kill the policeman and make out with Xander. She says she’s being taken into Anarchy 99’s inner sanctum tonight.

Xander follows and infiltrates the villa/fortress’s basement after her. He uses his X-ray binoculars to watch as Yorgi demonstrates his recently completed super-virus by using it on the captive scientists who created it. Apparently, an automatic water sled will scoot down the major rivers of Europe, annihilating all in its path, leaving Anarchy 99 and its adherents to start the world anew.

The guards find him and he has to fight his way out. News of his discovery is enough to mobilize the Czech military against the villa/fortress. But before the invasion, Xander must snowboard down the mountain behind it, setting off hand grenades all the way. The resulting avalanche buries the villa’s surveillance equipment so that the military can creep up unseen.

Yorgi knows he’s doomed, but sets off the super-virus sled anyway. Yelena drives the super spy car while Xander transfers himself to the back of the sled with a number of exciting but improbable parachute and harpoon-related stunts. Unable to stop the first virus rocket from igniting, he takes it out and puts it back into its firing slot upside down. It sinks and destroys the water sled (fortunately, the super-virus breaks down and becomes harmless upon contact with river water). Yelena, Gibbons, et al. watch the site for several tense minutes to see if Xander will resurface. He does, and demands a vacation in Bora Bora. The next scene shows Xander and Yelena smooching in tropical climes, so I assume Gibbons must have acquiesced.

Thoughts:

Recently added to the X-games: EXTREME SHOOTING THINGS!Fast cars, hot and expendable women, multi-function gadgets, an impractical plot to destroy the world—here’s a blatant James Bond homage that doesn’t even pretend originality. Well, except that James Bond and his imitators are smooth, charming upper-class gentlemen who defuse world-busting bombs with one hand while sipping vodka martinis with the other, while Vin Diesel is about as smooth as a hedgehog with psoriasis. This is actually a good thing. His unpretentious performance refreshes the tired superspy formula, lifting what could have been another medium-quality knockoff to the level of the better Pierce Brosnan Bond films.

Regardless of quality, however, it’s still a ridiculous spy flick, deserving of every insult and jibe Mike can heap upon it. Mike describes the Rammstein “music” at the beginning as “like…having a bucket of drywall screws dumped over your head,” and “music to kill and eat another human being by.” Later, he asks the citizens of trash-ridden Prague, “How’s the democracy working out for you guys?” and describes the traitorous Czech policeman as “the Inspector Clouseau of Czechoslovakia.” It’s a decent movie with a funny commentary track. I’ll probably watch it again.