Friday, August 11, 2017

xXx (2002)

Fuck yeah, bro!  I finally get to talk about my favorite pastime...  XXX!  Porn!  Gross people doing gross shit to each other!!!

What's that?

Vin Diesel?  Asia Argento?  Tattoos?  Okay, well, I mean I guess Vin Diesel is okay.  Not sure I want to see his schlong, but Asia Argento?  I wanna see what tattoos she has in places that aren't usually available to the naked (heh) eye.  She's probably into some weird shit too...

Say what?

This isn't porn?  It's an over-the-top action flick capitalizing on The Fast and the Furious?  Even directed by the same guy who made that movie (Rob Cohen)?  Huh.  I've never heard of it.

Just kidding, folks, I saw this movie in the theater.  In fact, I've seen 66.7% of the xXx franchise in the theater.  Don't get me wrong, that doesn't make this movie any better whatsoever.  I'm just trying to frame the decision to make sure I covered this movie since it just turned 15 years old because this movie is real dumb.

Real, real, REAL dumb.

The back of my DVD box gives us this synopsis: "Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) is a notorious underground thrill-seeker who, until now, has been deemed untouchable by the law.  But when crack NSA Agent Gibbons convinces Cage to infiltrate a ruthless Russian crime ring, this new breed of secret agent (code name: XXX) takes down the enemies of justice with a vengeance in this high-octane, turbo-charged thrill-ride from the acclaimed director of The Fast and the Furious."

Pretty much the entire synopsis tells you exactly everything you need to know.  When this came out, James Bond was celebrating his 40th anniversary of his first film, and about to be seen in his 20th canonical movie.  There were some idiots out there who thought Bond was past his prime and dull and boring.  They mostly were the types who rode pussy crotch rockets or ruined beautiful classic muscle cars by tinkering the fuck out of them or supercharged shitty Honda Civics.  In other words, idiots.  They needed someone like this to be reminded that it was okay to be a needle dick douche because you at least got a cool car and some sick tats, bro.

Another couple things that stick out to me in the synopsis...  Why is a thrill-seeker deemed "untouchable" by law enforcement?  That doesn't make sense.  If you fuck up someone's shit, as we will see in Xander Cage's introduction scene, you pay for that.  It doesn't matter how muscly or shaved headed you are and how pip squeaky and nerdy they are.  You are a fucking asshole.

Finally, if you have a movie with a guy named Xander Cage as the lead star, of fucking course it will be Vin Diesel.  The box didn't have to put that fact in parentheses.  Neither did I for that matter, but whatever.  Let's get started on this movie.


Seriously, guys... The villain is Count Dracula.  Prove to me
he is not.
In less than a minute, some shitty German heavy metal song plays while the title of the movie flies at our face like Peter North is providing your facial.  A guy in a tuxedo is running away from a couple meatheads.  He hides in a building that turns out to be a concert, and the source of the shitty German heavy metal song.  The agent apparently has stolen some sort of technological bullshit item and, like an idiot, tries to climb UP ONTO THE STAGE WHERE THE SHITTY HEAVY METAL BAND IS PLAYING when our villain, Count Dracula, has him shot and killed.

I want to point out that I really think that our world is in a shit situation because this agent was an idiot, and, quite frankly, kinda had it coming by trying to climb up on the stage of a shitty concert in a tux.  A big wig in the secret service organization does tell us when he's being briefed that at least the agent being killed was not part of their plan.  Oh, that's good.  Thanks.  I'm glad they had to say that was the case.  Just in case we thought that our intelligence community was run by the Ghoulie in the toilet from the cover of the movie Ghoulies.  It's okay, everyone!  We can rest easy tonight!  Our world is safe!

Anyway, so Samuel L. Jackson comes in and says they need all the help they can get to stop Count Dracula.  He offers up the idea of hiring some scummy thrill-seeker types.

Cut to Sacramento, California where a stuffy old white dude, with his young, blonde piece o' ass, goes to a country club.  His beautiful Corvette has a "Skateboarding Is Illegal!" bumper sticker on it.  Because that's exactly what you do to a beautiful Corvette - put a stupid bumper sticker on it announcing you are a stuffy old prick.  He's a dick to the valet guy, who happens to be Vin Diesel, who then takes his car for a joyride.  Xander Cage's team outfits it with a harpoon...?  He records a video to upload on whatever we did with our time before YouTube was created explaining that this guy who owns the car was a shitty senator who wanted to outlaw rap music and video games.  You know, like us white dudes would, amirite guys?

Anyway, while being chased by the cops, because the senator called the cops when his car was taken, he launches the car off a bridge and parachutes to the ground.  A bunch of his buddies are filming it for whatever site they are spending the rest of their year uploading it to back in the 56K era of internet speeds.  Wait...  Whoa guys...  The cops were chasing him.  He parachuted SLOWLY to the ground.  His team was all over the place filming.  How did the cops NOT catch him?  They should have pulled up like four paddy wagons to pick everyone up.  But why didn't they?  He's "untouchable", right?  Well, the cops don't say that, he says it to Eve (remember her? she was a rapper from the early 2000s who only shows up for this one scene?).  So I guess he is.  But we don't see much more before he's drugged and taken to what looks like the diner from Pulp Fiction where he's tested to stop a fake hold up.  He explains how he knew it was a set up with all the things he, like, instantly noticed about the guys and the waitress and how their performances were terrible.

Yeah, Vin Diesel criticized others' performances.

He gets knocked out again and wakes up in a plane about to be dropped into a Central American drug cartel war zone like place.  I guess he got the job.  He and two other douchebags get tossed into the middle of nowhere.  I think they have to stop some shady shit from some militia there or something, but I started to realize something.  Yeah, yeah, sure the characters in this movie suck because they are major assholes and people who really don't provide any kind of real worth because they just like to steal cars, wreck them, get tattoos, party in warehouses while they drink Coronas, and basically seem like real fucking degenerates in general.  Sure, the story seems really stupid how some shadowy spy organization can just scoop a guy up and make him do their bidding by instantly dropping him into a hotbed of Central American fuckery.  It's none of that that is most offsetting.

No, I kind of think that maybe my Subway I had for dinner was laced with some sort of hallucinogenic of some kind.  I swear Vin Diesel has turned into a meatball sub. It's the only way to explain his personality in most of this movie and some of the globular shapes found on his head.

It's really uncanny.  Not only did a meatball sub gain sentience and become a Hollywood superstar, but he managed to not really have much more personality than a hot sandwich from Subway.  I can tell you that a Subway meatball sub does indeed have all the bravado that Diesel and all the macho alpha males are putting on display because the way it tears through my asshole about 32 minutes after I ingest it.

As for what's going on in the movie while I made that horribly photoshopped Meatball Sub Man, Cage and a couple other assholes got dropped into this Central American shitstorm of a cocaine farm.  He gets caught, because he thought he was being tested again, and Danny Trejo almost tortures him but it's Vin Diesel and he's the best meatball sub guy on the planet and escapes before the U.S. Army blows up the place.  It's now that he's told by Nick Fury that he can either work for him or go to jail for that shit he pulled with the senator's car.

XXX gets sent to The Czech Republic to get to work on Count Dracula.  Of course, he's underestimated because the European scumbag police guy thinks this hairless ape of a meatball sub scumbag is worthless.

Lemme get this straight.  The guy who looks like an Eastern European drug dealer who probably smells like piss thinks anyone is beneath him?  Okay, maybe the stupid fur coat XXX wears in this isn't helping his case, nor does the suspicious lack of black olives on his meatball face, but c'mon, European Piss Man...  Let's not get your panties in a bunch over the guy who is quite a bit larger than you.

(Also, I'm not going to take the time to photoshop a European Piss Man - mainly because I'm afraid that looking up images of piss jars will turn me on too much.)

Instantaneously, XXX is taken to a bar that Count Dracula hangs out in.  The local police dude tries to tell XXX all about the badness that is Dracula.  What does XXX do?  Immediately walk up to Dracula and starts telling him how there is a cop in the bar.  Without a single amount of concern for the cop, XXX helps out the guy and earns the trust of Dracula and his gang.  What if the cop was taken out back and shot?  Did he have amazing foresight to know that Count Dracula wasn't the type to kill a cop, despite the fucking fact that 30 minutes ago, he killed an American agent?

Oh fuck it.  He earns their trust by dealing in... what else?  Cars!  After getting on their good side by obviously hitting on Asia Argento, who turns out to be Count Dracula's lady, they do get to celebrate by a guy shouting, "Bitches, come!"

That's exactly how I start parties.

I 100% guarantee you that Asia Argento can chew you
up and spit you out with zero effort.
The next morning, XXX meets a dork who is essentially to him as Q is to James Bond.  We have our standard, run of the mill gadgets scene.  Dork gives XXX a ridiculous gun and a whole bunch of ridiculous other weapons.  Like a James Bond movie.  You know...  One of those movies that fans of this movie was bored by?

XXX goes to buy the cars off Count Dracula.  Of course, he gets himself a sweet ass GTO because Vin Diesel is utterly powerless if he doesn't have an American muscle car in his possession.  Just as the deal is completed, the dumb local cop guy reveals that he's been watching everything going down.  This leads to about a 30 second moment of sheer intensity when Dracula thinks that XXX is not on the level.  They go after the cop together and XXX uses a dart that looks like he's killed the cop to gain even more trust.

Alright, I think I need to address something in this movie.  You know what the gigantic failing of this movie is?  It's really stupid.  Yes, the past 30-40 years have been littered with shitty action movies.  That's no joke.  Yet there is still a charm to those that are almost uniquely their own.  This movie has some decent action scenes and chases throughout the entire movie, but the problem is that it completely fails at being unique.  It's a bad clone of a James Bond movie.  The exotic location is what you expect from a Bond movie.  The fact that Asia Argento is actually a good guy (or at least has the heart of gold) is almost a trope created by the Bond series.  XXX being a tad rogue and working with his own rules is a James Bond thing.  The gadgets, the existence of cars, falling in love with the main bad dude's girl...  All Bond.

However, as I said before, this was meant to be an alternative to the stuffy, slower paced films in the Bond series.  So what does it try to do?  Be Bond, but turn the machismo up to 11.  Everything about the movie itself from the set pieces to the style of cinematography to the score to the bad guy and his henchmen is all lifted from the series it didn't want to be.  All they did was remove the main character and replaced him with a super annoying American behemoth who does uniquely american things like oppose shitty senators who don't like video games and rap music, do extreme sports, drive muscle cars, etc.  The movie itself, or at least the first two acts, really only appeals to the tank top wearing assholes who go out racing their shitty cars after watching the new Fast and Furious movie on opening night.  And that's not because the movie is so utterly bad and stupid, it's because the star of the movie is everything they want to be - in a very classless way.

At least with Schwarzenegger, Stallone, and Norris, they mostly played up to either being blunt instruments of destruction or were army guys in nature.  They didn't have to try to be a secret agent because they stood out because they were hulking beasts of men, or had a thick Austrian accent, or had a bushy mustache.

Now, just as I was talking about how Vin Diesel could never really fit a secret agent role for various reasons, his best attempt at being a James Bond like secret agent occurs in the movie.  The movie has progressed to the point that he has learned that Asia Argento wants out and protected, Count Dracula's dealing in biological weapons, and Nick Fury wants to send him home for being incompetent.  To try to save Asia Argento from Fury's "sweeper team" that will kill everyone, he sneaks into Castlevania to try to put an end to Dracula and get Asia Argento out.  He actually does a pretty good job of sneaking around the castle, acting scared that he might be found, and has a really good moment of complete shock and terror when he sees what Dracula's biological weapon can do.  That's the one moment when he's not in the middle of an over the top action chase that he looked like he could actually be a passable secret agent.  He even uses his gadgets in an intelligent way.  For example, instead of shooting and killing a guard, he uses a knockout dart to be a little more discreet.  When he realizes he can't get to where Dracula is showing off his weapon to Asia Argent, he uses a pair of binoculars that has x-ray to look through a wall and take pictures.

It's here that I realize where Vin Diesel is at his strongest as an actor.  He's actually best when he is vulnerable.  When he is top cheese, he almost struggles to deliver lines.  He comes off overly cocky, but not in an almost charming Tom Cruise way, but in a really shitty, I-want-to-punch-this-douche-in-his-ball-sack way.  When he's in trouble and doesn't have the confidence that he isn't the main man in the room, he actually shows a little more humanity that is a welcome difference.
At least he can do the action stuff.
Another issue with this movie in its obvious attempts to ape the Bond franchise is the actual runtime.  I don't believe there is a Bond film that runs less than 110 minutes.  In 24 films in the Bond series, I believe 21 of them are over 2 hours in length.  This film comes in at 125 minutes.  That's a real problem for a movie that wanted to inject something new into this style of action movie.  All the cards were shown on the table with still 45 minutes left to go.  However, without an actual charming leading character who is supposedly a top secret agent who walks around in a coat that makes him look like a lion, it's a tough pill to swallow to learn there is still three quarters of an hour remaining.  It suffers with spending too much time allowing Vin Diesel to be a sledgehammer in a scenario that requires a scalpel.  When we get to the final act, it has to be overlong in order to tie up everything needed to bring this movie in for a satisfying landing.  It goes from being a stupid action movie in the vein of Fast and Furious and ends with being a Bond film.  It's terribly inconsistent in that regard.

So here we are...  XXX needs to beat the bad guy before he launches a weapon that will kill a bunch of people.  He's gotta get into Castlevania, though.  He accomplishes this by skydiving, snowboarding, and cliffjumping to avoid an avalanche all at the same time while outrunning henchmen on snowmobiles.  This is a legitimately well done scene.  It even ends appropriately by having him survive, but captured and brought into the compound.

Also, all these things are super hot.
Count Dracula explains that he plans to attack Prague with his death gas missile.  He then says he plans for it to trigger mass confusion where "These guys attack those guys.  These guys over here attack those guys over there!"  Now, that seems like a legit sentence to be said in every day life.  Now imagine it in a really thick Slavic accent.  It's fucking hilarious.  Just as Dracula was going to kill XXX and Asia Argento, the police crash in and provide escape from danger, but, uh oh!  Dracula has the hard drive to operate the death weapon.  They need to chase him down to stop the missile from being set off.

Three really nice things round out these last 30 minutes or so.  First, when they are getting out, XXX is not good with guns.  He tries to shoot some bad guys but isn't aware that he has his safety on and is needed to be saved and then told about the safety from Asia Argento.  That's a nice touch for a movie that celebrated Vin Diesel's machismo for the last 90 minutes.  XXX does use some of his own smarts by killing a henchman with a heatseeking missile because he knew the guy was smoking a cigarette (thanks to an earlier exchange about how cigarettes will eventually kill the guy).

Lastly, even though XXX is able to kill Dracula by actually learning how to shoot a gun to hit a long range moving target, he couldn't stop the bomb.  So, his dorky Q guy shows up with a tricked out GTO that's got all sorts of weapons and shit.  Asia Argento tells XXX that in order to stop the bomb thing, they have to sink it using the controls on the actual bomb itself.  XXX decides he needs to be the one on top of it.  A nice chase goes down where he eventually uses a harpoon to reel in the bomb.  He is barely able to disable the bomb by turning the missile about to be launched in on itself before it gets to its target causing it to sink and dissolve the evil monster gas.  It almost looks like he dies but resurfaces to get a hero's welcome and a vacation to Bora Bora.

In the end, this could have been a consistently fair to good action/espionage flick.  The early parts are so laden with Vin Diesel being made out to be some sort of super man with all the right plans, all the right lines, and all the ladies being thrown at him.  He's really more of a dick for the first two-thirds of the movie.  However, once he's actually called on to be the hero and do spy stuff, the movie really does turn around.  The last act of the movie is about as as good as anything that is not part of the Bond series could ask for.

Yet, another problem is that it is terribly dated.  I think when I saw the movie when it was brand new I thought to myself that it was already dated.  We were going through a rough time following the 90s and getting into the early 2000s that saw the rise of a group of guys that were nothing more than lunkheads.  They didn't really have any charisma and they certainly believed themselves to be smooth despite the fact that most of their girlfriends back then would be embarrassed now to admit they hung out with them, let alone touched them.  Fast and Furious was able to mold themselves into a seriously good action series once they realized how to embrace the over the top action and their actors' own strengths.  However, when left to his own devices to be a superhero again, Vin Diesel struck out hard with xXx: The Return of Xander Cage proving that the character didn't have enough charisma to be something of this time.  Instead, it just was terribly dated again despite being released in 2017.

I've kinda ripped this movie in this post for being dumb, overly reliant on a non-charismatic talking meatball sub, and targeting a crowd who wanted something more like Fast and Furious type of manly man to lead this type of movie instead of a James Bond, but when it does settle into that third act, you almost have to like what you're given.  It becomes smarter when it relies on its own action-packed finale.  I think the marketing for this movie really irritated me.  I am a huge Bond fan, and to me, Bond is the very tippy top of the pinnacle of action heroes.  Like the song says, "Nobody Does It Better."  When you have the balls to trot out that meatball sub to go on talk shows and say he's the new guy who will knock Bond down and take his place, well, then allow me to say a mighty, "Fuck you, sir!  Fuck you right in the butthole!"  Admittedly, Die Another Day (released mere months later) is one of the very worst of the Bond franchise, but it's still miles ahead of this in pedigree.

Next week, we return to the DC Universe for yet another film of theirs celebrating its 20th anniversary.  Practice your free throws because it's Shaq versus Judd Nelson in the 1997 superhero super fart Steel!  Come back next week to get the skinny on that lumbering shit stain!

Oh...  One last thing to say about xXx...
All these things are super hot.

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