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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » xXx
xXx
Columbia/Tri-Star // PG-13 // December 31, 2002
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted December 16, 2002 | E-mail the Author
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"XXX" is a movie overjoyed with its own gadgets and aware of its ridiculousness. As brainless as the movie sometimes (often) is, its self-aware nature and its high energy level make it watchable and occasionally mildly entertaining action fare. Vin Diesel ("The Fast and the Furious") stars as Xander Cage, an extreme sports enthuiast who happens to cause some trouble at times, such as in the opening sequence, where he steals a senator's car and drives it off a bridge in order to teach him a lesson about being against video games and rock music.

After the car stunt, Xander is arrested by NSA agent Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson). Gibbons has seen too many of the traditional spys fail to complete their mission as of late, so he decides that scanning for prisoners or those with a former criminal record might be a better choice. Xander goes through a series of tests that are more real than he'd expected and, of course, the insults between the two start flying.

Xander is sent overseas to Prague to infiltrate "Anarchy 99", a Russian anarchy group lead by Yorgi (Marton Csokas), who is - of course - seeking world domination. There's also a love interest (Asia Argento), who may have secrets of her own. Although the film's opening action sequences aren't staged particularly well (the dialogue that Diesel tapes himself saying as he steals the car is especially unintentionally hilarious), but the film eventually settles in and becomes pretty exciting. Rich Wilke's script isn't much for character development or memorable dialogue, but Cohen and the stunt team have come up with a series of major action sequences that are impressive, with the occasional dialogue providing a bridge between these scenes. The film also makes a fine change between a light first half to a considerably more serious second half fairly well.

The performances are fairly decent, given the material. Diesel makes a convincing change from self-centered to action hero (although I've liked some of his supporting performances in films such as "Pitch Black" and "Fast and the Furious" better), while Asia Argento (daughter of cult director Dario) is appealing as the love interest. Samuel L. Jackson, on the other hand, is entirely wasted as Gibbons, given very little to do. Csokas isn't a particularly effective bad guy, either.

"XXX" delivered exactly what I expected: decent stunts, some thrilling action scenes, a fairly good action hero and fantastic sound design. Could this - a over-the-top action film - have used a better script? Certainly; while "XXX2" is already going to happen, this series needs to be remembered a bit more equally for its characters than its action. As is, I found the film to be merely a good action thriller, but with some more attention paid to character and plot, this could have been - and the next one could be - something more memorable.


The DVD


VIDEO: "XXX" is presented by Columbia/Tristar in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality is not flawless, but it is excellent throughout the great majority of the movie. Sharpness and detail are impressive, as Dean Semler's cinematography is presented with great clarity and definition, not to mention a film-like and sleek appearance.

A few concerns are scattered throughout the presentation, but there was nothing too terribly bothersome. Minor edge enhancement was seen on a couple of occasions, as were a few slight specks on the print used. Very minimal grain was also occasionally seen, but was hardly noticable. The film's bright and vivid color palette was reproduced superbly, as colors appeared bright and well-saturated, with no smearing. Not quite a flawless presentation, but it certainly represents the film very well.


SOUND: Director Rob Cohen has always offered movies with remarkable soundtracks. "Dragonheart" has the scene where the Dragon flew around the listening space. "Daylight" had the incredible early explosion and many scenes with an amazing sense of sound envelopment. "Fast and the Furious" had the astonishing car sequences, which put the viewer into the middle of the scene through expert use of all speakers. "XXX" has, well... just about the whole movie. A mix that is almost non-stop L-O-U-D, the surrounds never cease to deliver either the surround effects or the loud metal/rock soundtrack. While there are still some scenes from "Fast and the Furious" that I'd turn to first for demo material, this soundtrack (and movie) is more consistently all-out. This film's soundtrack also has some of the same members of the "Fast and the Furious" sound team (sound designer Tim Walston, supervising sound editor Bruce Stambler) and many others with an equally impressive resume (Academy Award winner Elliott Koretz, "T3" & "Cast Away" production sound designer William B. Kaplan).

The DVD presents the film's soundtrack in Dolby Digital 5.1 (unfortunately, no DTS here, although I wouldn't be surprised at an eventual Superbit release). The soundtrack is aggressive, but skillfully crafted and highly enjoyable. Some of the songs on the soundtrack have been noticably remixed for the 5.1 experience, with some elements of the music coming discretely from the surrounds (a technique that was also used on the "Fast and the Furious" soundtrack). Those who can enable back surround use will find that it makes for a more fun experience, adding a more enveloping feel to the action sequences (such as the avalanche).

Audio quality was superb throughout the picture, as all of the sound effects certainly brought the expected amount of force, while dialogue remained crisp and clear. Bass - as one would expect from a movie like this one - is consistently deep and fierce. Overall, about as good as it gets in terms of modern action film sound design.

EXTRAS:

Commentary: This is a commentary from director Rob Cohen. While Cohen's earlier commentaries ("Daylight", "Dragonheart") have been highly informative, honest and entertaining, his last couple have been no less energetic, but a bit more inconsistent. During the commentary for "Fast and the Furious", the 50-something Cohen started talking about "dope" cars and chatting about that film as if it was a serious drama. "XXX"'s commentary finds Cohen concentrating on being cool a little less, but he still talks about the film with unexpected seriousness. While I found "XXX" entertaining enough, Cohen's analysis of the film is occasionally over-the-top and yet sincere (he talks about the fact that all of Diesel's tatoos in the film have "meaning" for the character) that the commentary becomes a little absurd now and then. Above it all, though, Cohen still does provide a lot of strong, informative technical tidbits and is more than enthusastic about discussing the film he and a crew of hundreds have come up with. This was a fairly enjoyable commentary, but I remember some of Cohen's earlier tracks to be a bit more consistently informative and detailed.

A Filmmaker's Diary: This is a 40-minute documentary that was largely born after Cohen saw the success of the "Fast and the Furious" DVD. Interested in providing an even more in-depth look at the making of a picture, this terrific documentary watches Cohen and crew throughout the 82-day shoot. The documentary isn't the usual irritating promotional fare that parades interviews with the cast and crew discussing their characters or how great it was to work with each other. Instead, the documentary filmmakers were allowed full access to the set and are there to capture the concerns and triumphs of the production as they film some of the larger stunt sequences. The doc is not among the best documentaries I've ever seen on a DVD (I still consider "Under Pressure", the look at James Cameron's "The Abyss", to be the most entertaining), but it's still well-filmed, fast-paced and informative. This isn't just a look at the production, either - there's plenty of footage of the post-production process, as the film's crew heads into the editing room to try to bring the footage together, add the sound effects, score and other finishing touches.

Featurettes: After the highly enjoyable "Filmmakers Diary", these featurettes seem lesser in comparison and not only in terms of running time. Still, "Building Speed: The Vehicles of XXX", "Designing the World of XXX", "Diesel Powered" and "The GTO is Back" are mostly a bit better than the usual fare, as they stick to offering decent information about different areas of the production instead of trying to offer too much about the story or filling time with too many clips.

Visual FX: This section includes three featurettes on the visual FX, two of which focus upon the avalanche scene and the other on the exploding shack sequence. The featurettes show the layers of the FX shots and go through - one by one - towards the final sequence. Optional commentary from the visual FX supervisor is also available.

Deleted Scenes: The DVD offers 10 deleted scenes with optional commentary from director Rob Cohen. There's some decent moments within these scenes, but at 124 minutes, the picture is already a little on the long side.

Trailers: Trailers for "XXX" and two upcoming releases ("Darkness Falls" and the Jack Nicholson/Adam Sandler picture "Anger Management").

Also: Filmographies, Gavin Rossdale "Adrenaline" music vid and additional DVD-ROM material, including web-links.


Final Thoughts: I certainly like an occasional loud action picture and "XXX" certainly provided quite a few well-crafted action scenes. Diesel is a good action hero, too, but that's really all this film is - action. If more thought was put towards character and story, maybe "XXX" could come closer to being "007" for a new generation, which is obviously what the filmmakers intended. Columbia/Tristar's DVD offers excellent video quality and fantastic audio quality, along with quite a few well-produced supplements. Fans should certainly enjoy the DVD, while those looking for technically impressive action or terrific surround sound might want to at least check this out as a rental.

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