"Bitches, come." If you can overlook dialogue like that and suspend your disbelief when Vin Diesel rides a rocket hovercraft carrying a deadly weapon toward Prague, you might just find director Rob Cohen's xXx entertaining. Released in 2002 and hot on the heels of The Fast and the Furious, this overly long, over-the-top action film features some truly impressive stunt work. Diesel offers plenty of swagger in an unsubtle yet surprisingly enjoyable performance, and he is joined by Samuel L. Jackson, Asia Argento and Marton Csokas. Now fifteen years old, xXx holds up surprisingly well as a brain-off action film. This new Blu-ray release, in honor of the very late sequel, is not technically a 4K remaster, but it rectifies the original Blu-ray's messy encode.
The film adopts a Euro-industrial mood early on, as the opening sequence is set to a fiery concert backdrop courtesy of German band Rammstein. An NSA agent attempts to collect information about Anarchy 99, a Russian mercenary group led by the mysterious Yorgi (Csokas), but is killed in the process. Agent Augustus Gibbons (Jackson), also of the NSA, decides the U.S. government should take a different approach to infiltrate the group, and recruits extreme sports star and television host Xander Cage (Diesel) to the agency. Cage is initially skeptical, but is quickly thrown into mix, travelling to Prague to meet with agents on the ground. He proves reckless and impulsive, blowing his handler's cover to convince Yorgi he can be trusted. Cage discovers the group has a biochemical weapon dubbed "Silent Night," and is planning to use it in a mass-casualty event.
The whole premise of this movie is ridiculous, and Cohen and company clearly target their teenage male audience with plenty of scantily clad, PG-13-appropriate ladies, a pounding soundtrack and nonstop action. The action happens to be damn good, too, as many of the stunts were performed practically, including the giant Corvette jump at the beginning of the film. Sadly, stuntman Harry O'Connor was killed shooting a parasailing stunt, but his earlier work made the final cut of the film. Cohen even includes nods to his The Fast and the Furious when Cage chooses an American muscle car over a host of high-power imports. At least Diesel appears in on the joke.
This is a blunt Bond knockoff. Csokas's villain is underwritten and overplayed, Argento's villainous sidekick has an unsurprising change of heart, and Jackson stands in the shadows, waiting on his chance to yell. Somehow, as dumb as xXx is, the film actually works. I was entertained. The narrative moves along at a good clip, though Cohen could have excised 15-20 minutes of late-game filler to make the film tighter and more enjoyable. To say the acting is bad sort of misses the point, but it is certainly not great. Those looking for subtle character development and a compelling narrative need not apply. Come for the stunts, stay for the cheesy throwback action.
The previous Blu-ray, which was not reviewed on this site, looks like shit. It is muddy, grainy and soft, with plenty of smearing and digital tinkering. I'm surprised Sony did not give this one a full 4K redo, but whatever they did greatly improves the image. At minimum, they've now used a more efficient AVC codec for the 2.40:1/1080p image. I've taken Sony to task lately for mishandling black levels and causing black crush, but this new transfer for xXx offers plenty of shadow detail and inky blacks that do not crush. Fine-object detail is generally good, and the image actually looks like film. Colors are natural, skin tones are accurate and I noticed no print flaws. There are a couple of soft, almost smeary shots, but I suspect those are a source flaw. Overall, this is a nice improvement over the previous release.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is excellent and truly immersive. The film offers plenty of action effects to surround the viewer. Gunfire, screeching tires and explosions all make use of the surrounds. There are frequent sound pans, and dialogue is often delivered directionally. All the elements are blended nicely with the popular music soundtrack and score, and the LFE offers enthusiastic support for the most chaotic bits. This new Blu-ray release includes a ton of lossy dubs and subtitle options, too.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This single-disc release is packed in a standard Blu-ray case that is wrapped in a slipcover. An insert offers a code to redeem for an UltraViolet HD digital copy. The disc includes a ton of bonus features, most of which were created for the film's initial DVD release. This Blu-ray includes the theatrical cut only, as Sony appears to be dropping all the faux "director's cut" versions it created by inserting deleted scenes for DVD releases on these new Blu-ray versions.
Extras! First, you get an Audio Commentary by Director Rob Cohen that is surprisingly informative and interesting. Origins of a Renegade is a new piece that discusses the ties between this film and the new sequel. You get the multi-part xXx: A Filmmaker's Diary that includes "U.S./Pre-Production" (15:27/SD) and "Prague/Post Production" (25:26/SD) segments. Diesel Powered (6:50/SD) is all about the star; Visual Effects How-To's (3:04/SD) spotlight effects breakdowns; Building Speed: The Vehicles of xXx (6:55/SD) highlights the numerous cars and other high-tech transportation options in the film; and Designing the World of xXx (14:35/SD) is about the production design. You also get ten Deleted Scenes (15:51/SD); Starz! On Set - The Making of xXx (14:32/SD); Agent Shavers' Gadgets Presentation (3:44/SD), with actor Michael Roof; the Avalanche Scene (5:37/SD) alongside storyboards; the Drug Farm (5:08/SD) scene with storyboards; the End Credit Sequence - Raw and Uncut (3:34/SD); Music Videos for "I Will be Heard" by Hatebreed (3:09/SD) and "Adrenaline" by Gavin Rossdale (4:18/SD); and the film's Theatrical Trailer (2:34/HD).
Smart and subtle it is not, but Vin Diesel-led xXx holds up surprisingly well as an over-the-top action film fifteen years after its initial theatrical release. Re-released on Blu-ray in a remastered edition with plenty of bonus features, fans of this kind of thing may want to add it to their collections. Recommended.