I'll be the first to admit that James Bond should consider retiring, but I wonder whether Xander Cage is the right man to replace him. Riding a wave of publicity that most producers would give their lives to surf on, XXX, which stars Vin Diesel as an action-sports video star who gets pressed into service for his country, is an attempt to go beyond Bond. Instead of a tuxedo, a muscle shirt. Instead of an Aston Martin, a souped-up GTO. Instead of a martini, Mountain Dew ' not the drink itself so much as the whole world evoked by those do-the-Dew commercials, which invariably end with a dude saying, "Yeah, it's like that." In XXX, Diesel parasails, snowboards, motocrosses and slides down a banister on a restaurant tray. Meanwhile, director Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious) is setting off enough F/X to bomb Prague back to the Stone Age. Loud? Hectic? Thrill-and-chill overkill? Yeah, it's like that.
But don't tell the movie's target audience, which has dutifully fallen in line for a final act of vicarious rebellion before school starts. With his shaved head, his tattoos and his beefy muscles, Diesel's Cage is one of those authoritarian anti-authoritarians; it's his way or the highway. But Samuel Jackson, who lets a prosthetic facial scar handle the acting this time around, had the scriptwriter on his side. As Augustus Gibbons, a recruitment officer for the National Security Agency, he sends the reluctant spy (it's either this or prison) on a mission impossible. A group of Russian ex-soldiers has developed a biological weapon that could wipe out the world's major cities with the flip of a switch. Led by a couple of pieces of Euro trash that had me longing for Boris and Natasha, Anarchy 99 (as the group is known) wants to rule the next millennium. Of course, it also wants to party like it's 1999. Decisions, decisions.
For a movie that wanted to go beyond Bond, XXX sure doesn't mind following the Bond formula ' girls, gadgets, exotic locales. But in each case, the new is a pale imitation of the old. Looking like she never made it home from last month's rave, Italian actress Asia Argento plays Cage's love interest, and it's hard to believe this poster child for heroin chic will keep America's skateboarders up at night. For that matter, I would assign Diesel a rather low score on the charisma scale. I like his multiethnicity as much as the next person, and there's that voice, which sounds like rocks being ground into dust. The thing is, he doesn't do anything with the voice, just lets it grind away. "Is this guy gonna hump my leg?" Cage asks at one point, and I thought, hey, whatever it takes to get a rise out of you. Paradoxically, XXX had me missing James Bond, with his elegance and his wit and his effortless way of rising to the occasion.