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Posted by Lilly from ? ( on Tuesday, August 20, 2002 at 4:39PM :

In Reply to: Last ones for the day posted by Lilly from ? ( on Tuesday, August 20, 2002 at 4:35PM :

Jim Ridley's one of my favorite film reviewers. Priceless, again.
X Marks the Slop
from the Nashville Scene
August 15-21 issue

Vin Diesel deserves better than the junk-Bond actioner XXX

By Jim Ridley


The story of unique talents in Hollywood, with numbing regularity, is the story of how a tasty cut of beef gets pounded, processed and packaged into a grayish lump of McMeat. These days, the ultimate assembly-line cheeseburger is the big-budget action vehicle--once a proud form, now a formula blob designed to appeal to as many blanded-out palates as possible. There's even a trade-paper term for this kind of movie: "franchise." Still, you wouldn't think a beefcake as bulky as Vin Diesel could be flattened to fit a bun as square as XXX, a generic selling machine disguised as a muscle-headed actioner.

Until now, Diesel has filled second-banana parts to bursting with his striking presence, a rock-tumbler voice and a build like the Michelin tire man. He has acting chops coupled with the kind of sleepy-but-alert masculine charisma that set Robert Mitchum and Lee Marvin apart from the pretty boys. With gifts this rare, what does Diesel get for his first solo starring vehicle? An attempt to launch a sort of aggro alternative to James Bond, the hoariest franchise going--only XXX uses the trappings of balls-out, anarchic youth culture to peddle the same Cold War palaver.

The Bond films of late aren't so much movies as trade shows, expensive showrooms of cars, exotic arm candy and brand-name gadgetry in the service of monolithic capitalism. They also have their bad points. But at least they're blatantly venal enough not to add a layer of bogus anti-authoritarian posing. XXX, on the other hand, introduces Diesel as extreme-sports outlaw Xander Cage, first seen swiping the sports car of a snooty senator and surfing it hundreds of feet off a bridge. (As with many of the Bonds, the movie never tops its opening.) Somehow, a U.S. intelligence agent (Samuel L. Jackson) sees this stunt and decides Cage is ideal secret-agent material--ideal enough, anyway, to be shanghaied into infiltrating a cadre of ex-Russian Army chaos junkies who call themselves Anarchy 99.

Once Xander falls in with these wacky Soviets--who, like him, love video games and The Vandals' "Anarchy Burger" and hate shadow governments--he's going to turn on the above-the-law puppetmasters who drafted him, and he'll use his gifts to undermine America's own agents of discord. Right? Wrong--that would be actual rebellion, the kind that's tough to market. Instead, screenwriter Rich Wilkes labors to turn the Anarchy kids into global super-terrorists, while Xander sees the error of his lawless ways. He learns that stealing cars, busting heads and blowing stuff up is wrong, unless it's part of a government job. Underneath all the nü-metal and PlayStation nods, a message of pure conformism drones to the movie's teen-age audience, like those subliminal anti-shoplifting warnings that are obscured by shopping-mall Muzak.

It's fun, at first, to watch Diesel saunter with casual arrogance through Bond-type scenarios, like Dean Martin on his old TV show sloshing past showgirls. He can pull off that trick of appearing not to give a crap, while he's building a character through tight, almost invisible gestures--like the way his thrill-seeker's eyes can't help but scan a roomful of ravers, even in a crucial chat with the anarchist leader (Marton Czokas). But if Diesel's laziness is fake, the movie's is only too real. The director, Rob Cohen, who did a respectable job with The Fast and the Furious' crisp low-tech chases, stages muddy, inept action scenes that get progressively less coherent in proportion to their scale. A thunderous avalanche vaporizes trees but powder-puffs the hero's perch; a motorcycle appears to soar above the treetops but lands with a thump. These might have worked as gags if the movie had a shred of timing or visual wit.

Over the weekend, it was depressing to hear Diesel in interviews discussing XXX in terms of "artistic integrity." He's a clear and original talent, but the filmmakers do their damnedest to make him an interchangeable lunk. (They have less success blanding out Asia Argento, who's just too glam-punk freaky to submit to Bond-girl bondage.) Maybe he's as deluded as Xander, who at one point defies his U.S. handlers by ordering better cars than they requested to set up a sting. Boy, there's a rebel. Please, somebody, save Vin Diesel, even from himself, before he's just another patty in the same old Happy Meal.

-- Lilly
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