Wednesday, August 14, 2002

XXX

Posted By on Wed, Aug 14, 2002 at 12:00 AM

Power chords struck from heavy metal guitars growl a dark introduction. Like the spawn of Kiss and medieval dragons, a goth band flails the noise from their guitars and drums and spits geysers of fire above their thronging faithful. “Bang! Bang!,” the vocalist rebel yells like an anthem. In the mosh pit, raised hands jostle and pass a tuxedoed body over their heads. Unknowingly, those hands become a funeral pyre for the dead NSA agent ironically overdressed to kill. Read between the quickly cut action that kicks off XXX, and our freshly departed secret agent man stands (and falls) for that James Bond pedigreed spy who is knocked in effigy from the blaring stage of pop culture’s youth cult by an anarchist’s bullet. The Bond of what the Italians called the “Kiss, kiss. Bang, bang” films is dead. Long live Xander Cage (Vin Diesel, The Fast and the Furious), “Triple X.”

But after this opener, it’s wise to limit the use of your X-ray spy vision into director Rob Cohen’s latest extreme thrill show plotted by Rich Wilkes (Glory Daze) — and your mind: This wild ride only rolls smoothly on a cushy suspension of disbelief. XXX never pushes the sexual envelope of its PG-13 rating (Cohen cuts as soon as Cage is about to get busy with his manly extracurricular duties for his country). But like any hard-core porn that bothers with story, screenwriter Wilkes’ script mostly jury-rigs setups for the good stuff that never fails to blow its wad in Cohen’s explosive money shots.

XXX’s big bangs are not as epic as those in a Jerry Bruckheimer (Bad Company, Black Hawk Down) produced shoot-’em-up. The action runs raw without the choreographed romance of that maestro of slow motion, director John Woo (Windtalkers, Mission: Impossible 2). Cohen, though, since last year’s turbocharged Diesel vehicle The Fast and the Furious, has found a more underground niche in the potentially outlaw realm of extreme sports. X is an X Games superstar mastering anything on wheels, parachuting and surfing — on anything but waves (snow, air, a stolen Corvette, a dinner tray).

Moonlighting as a (extreme, of course) political activist (think a radical superhero Michael Moore), Triple X is apprehended on his third strike of death-defying shenanigans for the cause of the day: fighting federal video game censorship. NSA Agent Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson, handicapped with an annoying facial scar) offers him a choice of spending life in a cell (a death sentence for the free spirit), or using his mad rad skills in the service of his country. X finds himself in the Czech Republic infiltrating a lethal mob of Russian anarchists. Irresistibly bitchy Yelena (Asia Argento, B. Monkey) is one of them. Or is she?

Bond’s last movies have enough self-awareness to recognize that their hero is something of an anachronism to the point of even calling him a “dinosaur.” If parody marks the spot of a genre headed for extinction, consider Austin Powers a warning sign. XXX surfs a youth explosion at the cineplex that may threaten 007.

James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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