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Vin Diesel's an explosive special agent in 'XXX'

Friday, August 09, 2002

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Is Pierce Brosnan as James Bond too cerebral for you? Do you even know who he is? Think he looks like a stuffy artifact from an earlier age when he appears in his exquisitely tailored tuxedo? Did you consider Vin Diesel -- not Paul Walker or the fleet of cars -- the real star of "The Fast and the Furious"?


RATING: PG-13 for violence, nonstop action sequences, sensuality, drug content and language.

STARRING: Vin Diesel, Samuel L. Jackson


WEB SITE: www.sonypictures.com/triplex


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And, by any chance, are you a red-blooded male of 17 or 18 years old who believes you can never have enough bikini-clad babes, tattoos, cool motorcycles that can leap tall buildings in a single bound, really big guns and quick quips? Well, then, "XXX" must be for you, because it sure wasn't aimed at me.

By the time Diesel opened his bedroom door in a Czech castle and found the room aglow with candles and a woman in red lacy underwear doing a pole dance with one of the bedposts, I could only push the button to illuminate the face of my watch. It's a blessing and a curse to know how much or how little time has passed.

"XXX" reinvents the concept of secret agents and appears to be building a franchise around Diesel as outlaw turned gutsy government weapon.

Diesel plays Xander Cage, or XXX as the inky tattoo on the back of his neck indicates, an extreme sports obsessive who decides to teach a California state senator a lesson. The uppity, uptight legislator wants to ban rap music and video games so Xander steals his little red Corvette convertible, drives it off a bridge, rides it down like a surfer catching a wave off Baja, Mexico, pulls his parachute and lands safely -- as the car crashes in flames. And of course he got it all on tape that will be shown and sold around the world.

Do enough stuff like this and you're going to draw the attention of the wrong people, namely Agent Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) from the National Security Agency. Deciding to go outside his usual crime-fighting arsenal, Gibbons tests Xander's smarts and then threatens him with federal prison unless he agrees to an assignment in Prague.

Once there, Xander has to contend with a motley cast of characters including inept cops, anarchists, mad scientists, men with guns and women who are treated like sex objects. The fate of much of the world ends up resting in his hands.

"XXX" had some of the best and most ludicrous stunts you will ever see. It also has Diesel, an actor best served in small doses as in "The Fast and the Furious," "Boiler Room" or "Saving Private Ryan." After a while, his turn as a well-muscled quipster and superman who can ride a motorcycle horizontally while shooting a gun wears thin.

The story barely allows Jackson to flex his acting muscles and he sports a huge scar on his left cheek that is never explained. Key supporting roles are filled by New Zealander Marton Csokas as ex-Russian Army commander Yorgi and Italian actress Asia Argento as his girlfriend, Yelena.

When faced with noisy, noisier and noisiest or big, bigger and biggest, director Rob Cohen always opts for noisiest and biggest. That applies to the heavy metal music or the number of explosions or holes in logic.

It's hard to ignore the stunts or fact that Diesel, as unlikely as it may seem, has muscled his way into the legions of leading men. He's signed for a sequel and the sort of money earned by the big boys: $20 million. Looks like XXX could stand for next generation.

Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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