RECAP: xXx

xXx (2002): Rob Cohen

The makers of xXx probably got sick of James Bond movies being so wussy. They wanted an American answer bred in the streets, in the projects, from the best and brightest the non-debonair classes have to offer. They invented Xander Cage.

Capitalizing on his Fast and Furious success, Vin Diesel plays basically the same character. xXx could be a Dominic Toretto origin story until he’s recruited by the NSA.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: An EXTREME daredevil joins the NSA to hunt Russian anarchists determined to overthrow governments while listening to Rammstein.

Hero (4/10)

Xander Cage is an extreme sports athlete and moral crusader afraid of neither rules nor death. Vin Diesel plays the title character, whose friends call him X. I’ll stick with Xander.

In Xander’s first appearance he steals a senator’s car and drives it off a bridge, all to make a political point. He’s a badass with street cred and a heart of gold. He’s exactly the new kind of man the NSA needs to fight global terrorism.

Huh? A new breed of criminal has arisen in eastern Europe. Anarchy 99, a group of Russian genesis working in Prague, can smell training on an agent a mile away.

The NSA wants its own snake to drop in with the bad ones, and they find one in Xander Cage.

Xander Cage can wear coats like this.
Xander Cage can wear coats like this.

After Xander’s bridge stunt, he’s tranquilized and sent through dangerous tests by the NSA suit anchorage of this operation, Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson). First, Gibbons orchestrates a fake diner stickup. Xander sees through that in seconds after waking up from a tranquilized sleep.

Needing more of a challenge, Gibbons sends Xander and two other guys to Colombia. Not a Cartegena resort, but a cocaine farm in the Colombian mountains.

Xander and his two friends are immediately captured and nearly tortured by Danny Trejo. Bad news if Trejo’s around. Xander initiates a jaibreak using his very particular set of skills that involves jumping a motorcycle through a barbed-wire fence and outrunning a fireball.

As soon as these guys leave the compound, they find it under attack by Colombian army helicopters. Xander carries his injured comrade from a shack into a field.

It’s chaos outside. Three helicopters strafe the compound with machine gunfire and the raining shell casings. Everything is on fire. Cars explode and stack atop each other.

Xander lives for this shit. The only intact wheels belong to a motorbike. He drives that thing all around the compound, dodging enemy and friendly fire, trying to find his injured companion.

Yes, those are unexplained burn marks on Jackson's face.
Yes, those are unexplained burn marks on Jackson’s face.

Xander will live close to death until he dies. Here are some things he says and does in the movie: “Slap me again and I’ll throw you a beating,”; “I like anything fast enough to do something stupid in,”; “The things I’m going to do for my country,” when he finds a lingerie-clad woman in his bedroom; an my favorite, “I’m untouchable.”

I bet Xander got in a fight in high school every day and won them all.

Diesel seems like the perfect actor for this role. His head already resembles and engine block, and he brought his Fast and Furious wardrobe of thermal shirts and leggings to play Xander.

One thing Diesel can’t do is kiss. Each time he kisses a woman looks like his first time. All mouth, all awkwardness. Dude can zip line, and that’s good enough for me.

Villain (4/10)

New Zealand actor Martin Csokas, last scene in an independent film called The Lord of the Rings, plays a Russian anarchist named Yorgi.

Yorgi, a former Russian soldier who broke from the army to do whatever he wanted, is so anarchist that he attends death metal concerts in churches and doesn’t button his shirts.

In his spare time, Yorgi employs Russian scientists to engineer a chemical weapon called Silent Night and some rockets to send them to cities across the world. These weapons are housed inside a solar-powered submarine called Ahab being assembled beneath Anarchy 99’s Czech mansion.

Russian villain wearing a track suit
Russian villain wearing a track suit

Yorgi wants world governments to crumble. He craves “absolute, beautiful freedom,” but he really wants power, as all people do. He loves money almost as much as he loves his right-hand-woman Yelena (Asia Argento).

Yorgi is a hard man to please. Xander, tasked with infiltrating Anarchy 99, must murder a cop to join. Other membership standards might exist, but cop-killing gets Xander on board.

After Yorgi’s people complete his solar-powered submarine, Yorgi kills them. He uses his employees to be test mice for the Silent Night gas he wants to unleash on the world’s great capitals. As one scientists begs for his life in front of Yorgi, the chief anarchist mocks him. “Bye bye little mouse.”

Yorgi might not be as dumb as his hair makes him look. He knew Yelena was a Russian spy the moment he brought her onboard, and he loved making her suffer every moment of their two years together.

Action/Effects (6/10)

Shortly after his cover is blown, Gibbons orders Xander to return to America. What Gibbons forgot was that Xander lives for this shit. Xander sent Yelena back into the fray, and he’s not going to leave her.

So Xander grabs some gear and infiltrates Yorgi’s mansion. First he has to climb a few hundred feet of rocks. No harness, no problem. He encounters a guard and throws him off the cliff. No screams from that guy to alert the others. Whew.

Xander creeps through the courtyard slapping explosive bandages on all the motorcycles. He spots Yorgi, his brother, and Yelena heading into the underground lair where Yorgi is assembling his solar-powered submarine. Xander follows them inside.

The submarine is ready to “drop off presents to the good boys and girls” of major Western cities, and Yorgi receives a gift from the kidnapped Russian scientists–the sub’s control panel. Yogi and his inner circle walk into a sealed room as Yorgi tests the rocket.

Xander is in another room using his binocular penetrator mode to watch the proceedings. A green and a blue liquid mix to form a black, deadly liquid. The scientists freak out and the rocket fires into the roof. It explodes and rains a cloud of white gas onto Yorgi’s employees, killing them all. “I know why they call it Silent Night,” Yorgi says to the sound of silence.

Totally normal handgun for totally not-secret-agent street badass to own
Totally normal handgun for totally not-secret-agent street badass to own

The test over and the gas diffused in water, the living members of Anarchy 99 can leave the massive vault for the moist, narrow tunnels beneath the mansion.

Two men enter Xander’s room. Xander surprises them by dropping from the ceiling onto them. He beats them, but not before one sounds a blaring alarm.

The two guys chase Xander, shooting at him. Xander can’t shoot well, so when he tries to hit a guy he misses. He takes another shot down one of the tunnels at them. This time he hits a pipe that ejects steam. “That works,” he says. Not exactly the Xander Zone, but he’s warming up to it.

All parties make the surface where chaos ensues, exactly Anarchy 99’s thing. Xander steals a bike and transfers its explosive bandage to a car. Xander speeds out across snowy stone as the machine gun nest opens up on him but misses.

Yorgi had a protective gate installed. Embedded in the ground, it must angle upward to block passage. Until vertical, the metal gate serves as a huge ramp, one Xander uses to leap his bike over the mansion’s protective wall. As Xander’s bike flies, he unseats himself, making his body horizontal and parallel to the ground so he can shoot a guard standing on the wall. Now that guy entered the Xander Zone.

All of Yorgi’s guys are coming after him, including Yorgi’s Rammstein-loving brother in a bike that also ramps over the rising gate. As the brother pops over the wall he sees Xander calmly waiting on the ground outside. “Fire in the hole,” Xander says as he touches the detonator. The brother explodes, as do all the bikes and a few cars inside the compound. Fireballs everywhere. Yorgi and Yelena escape, though.

xXx does not shy away from big time stunts, big time effects, and big time explosions. Flames flick high into the sky. Tires squeal across Prague’s old brick streets. Jets zoom through the sky.

Sidekicks (5/8)

Xander’s best friend in the field is Yelena. Imbedded with Anarchy 99 for two years, Yelena was a member of Russian intelligence until her unit dissolved and they forgot about her. She chose to soldier on, to learn what Yorgi was up to, and to try to stop him.

Yelena and Xander get off to an icy start, but when they co-discover their true personae they join together to stop Yorgi. This occurs just as Xander’s cover is blown, forcing Yelena to maintain her cover by giving up Xander in a Prague restaurant.

Yelena as Russian spy in Anarchy 99
Yelena as Russian spy in Anarchy 99

Turns out Yorgi knew who Yelena was from the get-go. That makes her character a tragic one. We never saw her murder anyone except a Czech cop who turned out to be on Yorgi’s side, but can assume that in her two years of service to an anarchy group she had to kill someone for Anarchy 99.

Xander’s boss is Agent Gibbons. Samuel L. Jackson wears a fake-ass hairpiece to play the boss that would likely lose a fight to Nick Fury. He’s tough and ready to shake up the NSA in the days after 9/11, in a movie where the words “nine eleven” are not uttered. Gibbons wants to put his own snake in the snake pit, and in Xander he finds a King Cobra.

Henchmen (2/8)

Yorgi is assisted by other former Russian soldiers who dropped out of the military and the country because they were sick of following orders.

Chief among them is Yorgi’s brother Kolya (Petr Jakl). This guy shows up in the opening scene, chasing a by-the-book NSA agent in Prague. He follows the agent into a church where a Rammstein concert has broken. Kola wears a Rammstein concert. Was he planning on attending the concert after murdering the agent or did he get lucky?

Xander sneering at Jackson's fake-ass hair
Xander sneering at Jackson’s fake-ass hair

No matter. Kolya is the kind of guy to enjoy Rammstein. He’s a fan of Xander’s as we learn in the ice bar later when Xander first meets Yorgi. After that meeting, when business has been conducted, Kolya is tasked with getting the party started. He sticks his head out the door and says, “Bitches, come,” and a dozen women stream inside. Don’t worry, Xander blows him up later.

Stunts (6/6)

I doubt I’ll remember much about xXx in the near future. It’s a silly movie. I hope to never forget its silliest moment, perhaps the most forced message stunt in action film history.

We open on a red Corvette zipping along the winding roads surrounding Sacramento, California. The car stops at the valet station at a posh country club. It has a bumper sticker that says “Skateboarding Is a Crime”. Corvette drivers love bumper stickers.

An old white dude steps out and hands the keys to a disembodied hand. He says some disparaging things about residents of California who don’t understand English. He wants his car parked in the shade because sunlight ruins the paint job. He is a grade-A douchebag.

Turns out the valet isn’t a valet. He’s Xander Cage! Xander, whips the car through the parking lot and along the same winding Sacramento roads. Four police cruisers, sirens blaring, give chase.

Xander is not here to steal the car. He turns off the side of the road where a team of X-sports junkies awaits to fit the car with several cameras with pit-stop speed. In seconds the car is back on the road.

Using a dinner tray as a board
Using a dinner tray as a board

The cops still chase Xander. A van chases the cops. They film the chase as Xander narrates his grand theft auto in real time. Turns out the douchebag old dude is a California state senator named Dick Hotchkiss.

Senator Dick has tried to ban all rap lyrics and video games for their youth-corrupting and intelligence-diminishing aspects. “It’s the only education we got,” Xander says with a smirk. In the end, Xander implores the senator, “Don’t be a Dick, Dick.” Fine screenwriting there.

Xander has one more thing to say as he drives onto a bridge spanning a gorge. “You’ve just entered the Xander Zone!” He points the Corvette toward a strategically placed trailer, ramping the car off the bridge.

I shit you not, fair readers, when Xander leaps from the car that leaps from the bridge, an eagle screams. The car falls, as does Xander, but only one of them has a parachute strapped on. Guess which one.

It’s Xander. He pulls the chute after a bit and coasts to the ground. The car hits the dirt and explodes. Xander’s friends below have a getaway car and some parting peace signs and middle fingers for the cops on the bridge hundreds of feet above.

I have more to say about the message, but the stunts were great. Jumping out of a car falling off a bridge is baller, and it’s not the only one. I mentioned the bike jumping in Colombia. Those stunts were terrific. And I don’t know how much of the snowboarding was digitized, but some of it must have been real. Those slopes were practically walls.

In a movie called xXx about a character who literally lives “for this shit,” I expect nothing less than the best stunt work. xXx delivers.

Climax (2/6)

We are worried about X when he’s caught on the mountain and brought to Yorgi’s library. Kirill is there. So’s Yelena. Yorgi spills the beans on all of them. He knew all along that Yelena was Russian intelligence. It was “my pleasure to twist you and use you how I saw fit,” he says.

Yorgi explains that he’s excited to see governments fighting governments long after he murders Prague, Hamburg, Washington, etc. Finally, when the world crumbles, he will bask in “absolute, beautiful freedom.” He plans to murder X and Yelena before that, though.

Before anybody does any more murdering, the library wall explodes. Czech police are on the scene and brought the entire force. X and Yelena dive behind a table for cover as Yorgi escapes with Ahab’s hard drive. Yelena opens a wall to reveal a cache of weapons and they chase.

The Ivans work outside as Yelena mows down Yorgi’s men inside and instructs X that turning off the safety is a crucial aspect of shooting a gun. Down in the sub chamber, Kirill hides in some piping to snipe at targets while Yorgi enters the docking bay with his submarine of destruction.

The cops easily reach the underground chambers. One is shot by Kirill. X takes a look at the bazooka lying dormant and says they need to “start thinking Playstation. Blow shit up.” There’s a great six-word review if you wanted one.

The bazooka is heatseeking, which could pose a problem, until X remembers that the “son of a bitch is smoking.”  He shoots and kills Kirill, who did die because of a cigarette, as X promised him earlier.

They chase Ahab and Yorgi into the Vltava River. X shoots at Yorgi, who is speeding away on a boat, and misses badly. “Learn how to shoot you piece of shit,” Yorgi taunts. X lies prone, aims, and hits Yorgi. The boat crashes and explodes into a rock wall.

Yorgi’s down, but Ahab streaks on. Going 80 mph, the only way to stop it is…uh…who knows? X gets a nice toy to track the sub though. Shavers arrives in the GTO, and he’s tricked it out, all the way out. X and Yelena ride along the river in peaceful Czech countryside while a submarine of death streaks toward Prague.

Next came my favorite part. Shavers tricked out the GTO with everything. Any weapons that could fit in/on a car he jammed in there. xXx might be the first movie to feature a character using GPS. First I can think of, anyway.

Shavers, while tricking out the car, had the time to write a manual. He did this in maybe two hours. Impressive. X drives while Yelena is tasked with reading the manual. One problem, “he’s got very bad handwriting,” she says.

The car has flamethrowers, mini bombs, exploding poppas, rocket launchers, and more, but nothing to stop an unmanned, defenseless submarine peaceful coasting 50 yards to their right.

Harpoon gun came in handy
Harpoon gun came in handy

X drives through a village. But there’s a potato cart blocking the road. The cart’s driver had crashed and someone was looking after him. I laughed, but I think the scene was meant seriously. X instructs Yelena to shoot rockets at the cart. She flips a switch and some fire escapes the hood. They bicker and she flicks another switch. Two rockets streak from the headlamps and blow up the cart. They drive on as locals walk by, as if an exploding potato cart is a normal aspect of their days.

Yelena takes over driving. X has found the weapons cache in the backseat, and he’s chosen the right one. Yelena blows the roof. X stands up and aims a harpoon gun. He straps on a parachute, fires the harpoon, strikes a hit on a solar panel.

Wishing he had a camera, X pops the chute. Yes, it is a star spangled parachute, and X uses it to parasail along the Vltava River. This river has a lot of bridges crossing it, and one’s coming up, what are you gonna do, X?

Wisely, X brought zip-line gear and uses it zip down to the submarine. The parachute pops off at the bridge. X reaches the bubble housing the hard drive and struggles to act.

The movie cuts to shots of regular people living their lives in Prague. Some walk around, others are gargoyles. Those might be stone people. Anyway, a lot of lives, human and gargoyle, are at stake if these rockets fire.

The pressure might be getting to X. The rocket bay opens, revealing three rockets. The submarine streaks toward the Charles Bridge where Yelena, Gibbons, a bunch of Czech military, a child chasing pigeons, and two people making out in the correct, non-Vin Diesel manner await their fates.

EXTREME rocket color
EXTREME rocket color

The fluids mix in one rocket. X, finally, has an idea. He lifts the rocket and turns it upside down. Having done that, he still can’t think of what to do. Gibbons calls off the air strike. The upside-down rocket fires, X shouts, “Welcome to the Xander Zone,” pulls out the hard drive and descends beneath the river’s surface with the submarine.

The rocket and submarine explode. The gas diffuses in the water without harming anyone. Most of the people are happy, but is X OK? Gibbons’s hair is still fake. Yelena cries until she spots Xander Cage climbing a pylon on the opposite side of the bridge. X shivers and has two words to say. “Bora Bora.”

Jokes (1/4)

You could describe xXx as one two-hour joke. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if the movie is serious in its silliness or self-mocking. I lean toward the former.

Shavers is a funny character. Buttoned-up and dorky, this NSA desk clerk has ached for a field assignment for six years. He’s the tech guy, and he’s eager to show Xander the gear. A huge revolver shoots darts and bullets. Some bandages are remote explosives. Shavers’s favorite piece is a set of binoculars with “penetrator mode” for X-ray sight and more. Xander of course uses it on a sexy agent target practicing and of course the sexy agent smiles at Xander.

Hey did you notice this tattoo the first eight times they showed it?
Hey did you notice this tattoo the first eight times they showed it?

The best part about Shavers is that he’s the biggest ladies man in xXx, and no one notices. Twice Shavers is shown surrounded by women listening to him talk and smiling. Xander walks past like Shavers is his not-so-well-loved dog.

I got the biggest laughs from Xander’s stunts and their depictions. In Colombia, Xander pulls an impossible motorcycle stunt. He motors around the drug farm searching for an escape route. A barbed-wire fence encloses the perimeter. Atop the fence runs parallel barbed coils. These coils leave a two-foot gap.

Xander knows what to do. he speeds his bike toward this gap and jumps the bike off the ground. Mind you, there was no convenient incline; he just pulled it off the ground. And mind you, this gap is nine feet off the ground. And mind you still, the gap is only wide enough to fit through sideways.

Xander jumps the bike, leans on his side, and flies through the gap. Great stunt. We watch it again from another angle. And another. And another. And another. And another. And three more times. Xander’s bike stunt is shows NINE times back-to-back-to-back.

The stunt didn’t make me laugh as hard as the nine times it was shown.

Setting (2/4)

Prague is a beautiful city and should be in movies. It’s massive palace and stone bridges evoke the wonders of Western Europe’s medieval and Renaissance architecture while its culture stays grounded in Eastern Europe’s more recent struggles with Communism.

Xander and Yorgi meet on the set of The Fifth Element
Xander and Yorgi meet on the set of The Fifth Element

Commentary (0/2)

That scene on the bridge with the senator’s car twisted me around like few others. Let’s break it down.

Rich white dude berates brown employee at country club: I’m onboard; that white dude sucks.

Rich white dude really lays it on thick with the antagonism. “Where are you coming from, Tijuana? I don’t mean to be rude.” And then, “I pay enough for you people.”: Movie, you’re trying too hard. You’re losing me.

Xander Cage steals the car and peals out of the parking lot: I’m back.

Xander pulls car off road to put stuff on it, not to steal it outright or strip it for parts: I’m confused.

Items on car are cameras and Xander is a political crusader sticking it to the rich assholes of the world: I get it now.

Xander stole the car of a California state senator: Xander is plugged in. I’m sure he subscribes to his local daily.

The senator is named Dick: Losing me again, movie.

Senator Dick wants to ban rap music and video games: That’s bad, but why take a stand there, Xander? California’s economy is about to collapse and Arnold Schwarzenegger is about to become your governor.

Xander says of video games: “It’s the only education we got.”: That’s sad.

Xander leads the cops chasing him onto a bridge and drives off it using a well placed trailer as a ramp: Love it.

“You’ve just entered the Xander Zone”: I salute you, new Robin Hood!

Xander jumps out of the falling car: Will he survive?

An eagle screams: A FUCKING EAGLE SCREAMS

The car and Xander fall: Will he open a parachute?

Xander opens a parachute: Whew. Can this be in slow motion?

It’s in slow motion: YAAAAAASSS!

The car explodes on the ground: The only part of this scene that makes sense.

Tony Hawk is driving the getaway car. The cameras survived the explosion and were pulled from flaming wreckage. “Let the Bodies Hit the Floor” by Drowning Pool is playing.: Standing ovation for all of this.

Xander touches down and says, “Moral is, don’t be a dick, Dick.”: I weep.

Xander motorcycles to his home in an abandoned warehouse to find a huge party in his honor. Tony Hawk is at the party. He does not speak. Some guys are skateboarding on the half pipe.: Keep going.

Xander’s manager is Eve: Makes sense. I bet Eve would make a great manager.

Three dudes slap five with Xander and say things like “off the hook,” “off the chain,” and “sick.”: Bet they were ad-libbing.

A sexy woman offers Xander a chance to be in his own video game. Eve, Xander’s manager, tells off the woman. “Who invited you?” she asks, telling her that Xander doesn’t sell out. Remember that she is Xander’s manager. Eve tells Xander that he needs to lay low, “get some girls. Do ’em all. I don’t care.”

Xander shrugs her off. “I’m untouchable,” he says. A dozen special ops soldiers burst through the windows and tranquilize Xander.

Amazing. Incredible. Stellar. Superb. This sequence goes as far over the top as a scene can go. The message is delivered bluntly, but as if with a Nerf bat hitting your head again and again.

An eagle screams. Was Red Bull invented in 2002? Did the editors have only Red Bull coursing through them when they cut xXx? “Put an screaming eagle in there,” one said. “Isn’t that too much?” “JUST DO IT!”

Offensiveness (-2/-2)

Yelena and Xander have a fun exchange in the ice bar where Xander first meets Yorgi. Xander condescends and dismisses Yelena, asking her if she knows what a wire transfer is. “Is she for real?” he asks Yorgi. “Sweetheart is there anything else you need to do, let us big boys have a conversation.”

“Conversation. A word with four syllables. Do you want some ice before your brain overheats.”

“Ice. Yeah, you could chisel some off your heart, if you could find it.”

Yikes. I guess Xander thinks that if women don’t instantly try to fuck him then they are icy hearted bitches. That’s as juvenile and sexist as a male attitude can get.

xXx is the ulimate teenage male fantasy movie: big stunts, big breasts, big guitar licks, and a hero who gives zero fucks about authority. Having said all that, I think I had a good time watching this. Probably best enjoyed buzzed.

Others

  • Did you know Xander has a tattoo of “xXx” on the back of his neck?
  • Yelena doesn’t drink martinis, she dips her thumb in them and sucks off the liquor.

Summary (31/68): 44%

I didn’t have a bad time watching xXx. This movie knows what it’s about, and it seeks to hammer that message home. I imagine the director watched dailies of xXx and said, “Great, but more.”

More action, more explosions, more accents, more sexism, more camera angles of stunts, steeper slopes, bigger avalanches, more fur linings on coats. Like that Andrea True Connection: More more more.