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Three Strikes



Rob Cohen, USA, 2002

Rating: 2.5



Posted: August 11, 2002

By Laurence Station

A tuxedo-clad spy is handily dispensed with in the opening sequence of Rob (The Fast and the Furious) Cohen's XXX, sending a clear and stinging message that the Cold War's suave martini-drinking, Aston Martin -driving operative is no longer relevant in the faster paced, less mannered 21st century. James Bond has been consigned to the cut-out bin of history now that the Soviet Union has fallen, and United Nations peacekeeping forces and Geneva Summits mediate the rules of geopolitical conflict.

Enter Xander "XXX" Cage (Vin Diesel), billed as a new breed of secret agent, an extreme sports enthusiast who's willing to break the law in order to have a good time. Triple-X's derring-do exploits haven't gone unnoticed by NSA Agent Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson, having a blast playing a badass government functionary); Gibbons abducts the daredevil and puts him through a series of increasingly dangerous challenges to test his mettle as a potential secret agent. Skillfully surviving the lethal entrance exam, Triple-X grudgingly agrees to work with Uncle Sam for one perfectly logical and self-centered reason: he doesn't want to go to jail.

Hence, our budding super spy is sent off to Prague to investigate a band of disgruntled ex-Russian army types calling themselves Anarchy 99. On the surface, this drug-dealing, car-stealing, prostitution pandering bunch wouldn't seem to merit NSA scrutiny, but their Czech castle headquarters, and an underground lab stocked with former Soviet scientists, clearly elevate the group to the status of Tom Clancy-esque villainy.

Dispensing with Bond-like comportment, Triple-X infiltrates, wins the trust of, and then sets about bringing down Anarchy 99 before the group can wreak havoc on the unsuspecting world. The action sequences are an X-gamer's wet dream of cool and ridiculously hazardous stunts. Triple-X rides motorbikes, free-climbs sheer mountain walls, ejects from fast-moving cars and, in the most exhilarating feat, outraces an onrushing avalanche on a snowboard.

Diesel infuses the title role of this action flick for the ADD-afflicted/X-Box-addicted generation with a healthy dose of testosterone, cut with a refreshingly ironic sense of the ludicrousness of the situations in which he finds himself. The soundtrack is appropriately loud and the cinematography effective if not revelatory.

XXX purports to be a faster, sleeker update of the tried-and-true super spy formula, but it falls into the same old clichéd pattern seen in dozens of similar films: Lone wolf hero takes on villainous bunch that wants to destroy the world, gets involved with girl who's gotten herself in too deep (the sexy, smart Asia Argento, in this case), and saves the day in the nick of time. Not exactly genre-busting stuff. There's nothing radical about the milieu in which Triple-X cavorts. And to make matters worse, the obligatory showdown with chief baddie Yorgi (Marton Csokas) proves a lame, non-confrontational affair. For a spy story, hackneyed or not, to work, the hero must face a worthy rival, and Yorgi (whose very name fails to evoke any menace; he sounds like a compact car that wouldn't make it on the Autobahn) just doesn't cut it.

XXX is less fast and not nearly as furious as it should have been, running about thirty minutes too long and with a calculated PG-13 rating to maximize the under-21 crowd. Cohen, Diesel and company play things way too safe to live up to the promise of the film's title or tagline. The next James Bond film can't get here soon enough.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A masterpiece
 4.0-4.9: Exceptional

 3.0-3.9: Solid fare

 2.0-2.9: The mediocrities...
 1.1-1.9: Poor
 0.0-1.0: Utter dreck
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