Sony // 2002 // 132 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Mitchell Hattaway (Retired) // June 13th, 2005
A new breed of secret agent.
A new low in double dips.
Vin Diesel. Boom! Sam Jackson. Crash! Marton Csokas. Bang! Asia Argento. Mrrrow! Other than that, there's not a lot to it.
Y'know what? I like this movie. For me, it's the most entertaining mindless action movie to come along since Point Break. It's really just a string of action set pieces tied together with the barest minimum of plot, but at least it knows what it is and uses that to its advantage. If I were 14, this would probably be the coolest movie ever.
For anyone who doesn't know, the plot of xXx revolves around Xander Cage (Vin Diesel, The Chronicles of Riddick), an extreme sports fanatic/miscreant who one day takes things too far by stealing a senator's Corvette and jumping it off a bridge. Xander's looking at three strikes in the penal system, but he's made an offer by NSA agent Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson, The Long Kiss Goodnight): Go to work for the government, infiltrate a terrorist group headed by a former Russian army officer named Yorgi (Marton Csokas, Garage Days), foil Yorgi's plan, and save the world, and all will be forgiven. Cage agrees (thank god, because otherwise there wouldn't be a movie), so it's off to Europe to blow up some stuff real good. Of course, you can't have a secret agent flick without a hot chick, so along the way Xander teams up with Yelena (Asia Argento, B. Monkey), an agent who's so deep into Yorgi's operation she can't find her way out. Turns out Yelena's pretty good at whacking people and blowing stuff up, too, and she puts to rest any stereotypes about female drivers. (A quick aside: For my money, Asia Argento combines hot and skanky in just the right combination.) Like I said -- it's big, it's stupid, and it's fun. Just don't think about it too much. Better yet, don't think about it all; just sit back and watch it go down.
This is the fourth DVD incarnation of xXx (following the widescreen, full-screen, and Superbit releases of the theatrical cut), and this new edition seems designed primarily to promote the Ice Cube follow-up, xXx: State of the Union. As such, this release is a resounding failure, although I'm not sure anything could have prevented the sequel from bombing. Of course, it wouldn't be enough to simply tack on some promo pieces for the second film, so Sony has tossed in a few new bonus features (which we'll get to shortly), as well as throwing in some extra footage in order to create a new cut of the film. Before you go getting all excited, though, be aware that this new footage is nothing more than the deleted scenes available on the first release. What we have here is eight minutes of reinserted footage, which adds nothing to the film. The two biggest additions are a scene detailing Xander's flight to Prague (in which he goes over top secret information in plain view of anyone who happens to walk by and tells a nosy teenage boy the files are part of a new video game) and the alternate version of Yorgi's conversation with an informant (this footage, available as a digitally obscured deleted scene on the first release, features three naked women entangled in bed, as opposed to the one covered woman shown in the theatrical version). There are also a few snippets of restored dialogue -- originally excised in order to obtain a PG-13 rating for the theatrical version -- most notably a thinly veiled reference to oral sex in the final scene. Thing is, I've always thought the movie was a little too long (the midsection does drag a bit), and this additional footage certainly doesn't help. On top of that, some of the footage has been rather clumsily restored; many of the transitions between the new and old footage are rather awkward. Add it all up, and, naked women or no naked women, this new cut really serves no purpose.
This transfer appears to be the same one from the original release. With the exception of some excessive grain in a couple of dimly lit interiors, it is a first-rate transfer. The audio is a sonic marvel. There's surround action galore, fantastic directional effects, and plenty of booming bass (the avalanche sequence makes great demo material). Despite the over-the-top nature of the film, the dialogue always comes through clearly, and the Dolby Digital track conveys the film's quieter moments (as few and far between as they may be) nicely.
Okay, so let's get to the extras. We get quite a large selection, but the majority of them have been ported over from the original release. Here's a look at each, along with an indication of which are new and which have been recycled:
* Starz! On the Set
This is nothing more than your standard overlong commercial masquerading as a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film. It runs about 15 minutes and comprises mainly clips you can find in the other extras. (This one, I think, is new.)
* Multi-Angle Stunts
This featurette showcases two of the major stunts in the movie: Xander's bridge jump from early in the film and the motorcycle jump over the exploding barn from the Columbian drug farm scene. Footage from nine cameras used during the filming of each sequence is available, and you can switch the angle using your remote. There's only one problem: Midway through each scene, eight of the nine cameras roll out of film. (This one's old.)
* Sneak Peek: xXx: State of the Union
A glorified trailer for the sequel, what you get here is about two minutes of footage from the film and about a minute of time highlighting several of the actors. In other words, it's a complete waste of time (much like the film it promotes).
* A Scene from xXx: State of the Union
Exactly what it sounds like. The person responsible for selecting this scene needs to be shot. You're trying to promote a big, loud, brainless action movie, and you choose a scene of two people sitting down for a chat? (This one's new, as is the Sneak Peek.)
* The Final Chapter
This new four-minute scene acts as an end to the story of Xander Cage's tenure as xXx (and is probably a jab at Diesel for pricing himself out of the sequel). Here's what happens: Xander (played here by Khristian Lupo, one of Vin's stunt guys) and his date go back to his apartment. Xander spots a potential bad guy and gives chase. More bad guys show up and kidnap Xander's date; they also plant a bomb in the building. Xander comes back, thinks he's about to get laid, goes inside, and gets the back of his head blown off by the blast, which, given the fact that's pretty much the only part of his head you see in the scene, makes perfect sense. Yeah, it's just as stupid as it sounds.
* Storyboard Comparisons
Here are split-screen storyboard/finished footage comparisons for two of the film's big action set-pieces: the avalanche sequence and the assault on the Columbian drug farm. This one's actually pretty cool. (This was featured on the original release.)
* Visual Effects How-To's
This features a breakdown of the elements used to create the avalanche sequence. You get to see the live-action element combined with CG work created by Digital Domain, with optional commentary from Effects Supervisor Joel Hynek. There's just one problem with this featurette: It's too short. Three minutes simply isn't enough time to cover the creation of what's arguably the best scene in the movie. (Another recycled featurette.)
* End Credit Sequence Raw and Uncut
I was hoping to see Asia Argento in the raw, but what you get here is the closing credits sequence minus the closing credits. Too bad they left the song in. (This one's new.)
* Hatebreed's "I Will Be Heard" Music Video
Nothing more than the music video for the song featured during the avalanche scene. I don't like the song. I don't like the video. (This one's new, too.)
* Gavin Rossdale's "Adrenaline" Music Video
I've never really been a fan of Mr. Gwen Stefani's music, and this is no exception. This is, however, four minutes of pure delight for anyone who wants to see the former Bush leader shirtless. (Here's hoping his wife soon follows suit. And this one is old.)
* Behind the Scenes Featurettes
Two short featurettes discuss the vehicles and gadgets used in the film. The vehicle one is fairly interesting, but the gadget one (hosted by unfunny standup comic Michael Roof, who plays Xander's gadget guru in the movie) is a chore to watch. There's also a chronicle of the movie's sets and locations, which is pretty cool, and a short piece in which everyone fawns over Vin, which isn't cool. (These were on the original release.)
* xXx: A Filmmaker's Diary
The title of this one is a bit misleading, as it's really little more than a pretty standard behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film. Broken into two parts, this forty-minute featurette covers both the stateside and foreign legs of the shoot. It probably could have been interesting, as the production team was on set for every day of the shoot and for much of the post-production period, but too much of the footage can be found in the other supplements. (This is another old featurette.)
* Commentary by Director Rob Cohen
Say what you will about Cohen, but the guy knows how to make a big, loud, dumb action movie. Unfortunately, that's gone to his head, and he spends a lot of this commentary patting himself on the back, though I have to admit it's funny listening to him try to be hip. He also kisses Diesel's ass quite a bit and pretty much glosses over the death of veteran stuntman Harry O'Connor, who died while performing the parasailing stunt featured in the film's climax. (This is the same commentary found on the original release.)
On top of this, you also get a free ticket for the sequel. I'm wondering if maybe I just can cash mine in for the seven bucks.
Unless you're a diehard fan, there's no need to pick up this release. There's absolutely nothing here that warrants another purchase.
xXx is guilty of being a guilty pleasure of mine. Columbia is guilty of an unnecessary, completely shameless marketing ploy. Court is adjourned.
Review content copyright © 2005 Mitchell Hattaway; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* All-Time Most Popular: #4
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 132 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Exclusive Scene from xXx: State of the Union
* Sneak Peak: The Making of xXx: State of the Union
* "Building Speed: The Vehicles of xXx" Featurette
* "Designing xXx" Featurette
* "Diesel Powered" Featurette
* "xXx: A Filmmaker's Diary" Featurette
* "Visual Effects How-To's" Featurette
* Multi-Angle Stunt Views
* Starz! On the Set: The Making of xXx
* The Final Chapter: The Death of Xander Short
* Storyboard Comparisons
* Agent Shavers's Gadget Presentation
* The End Credit Sequence--Raw and Uncut
* Hatebreed's "I Will Be Heard" Music Video
* Gavin Rossdale's "Adrenaline" Music Video
* Official Site
* xXx Theatrical Version Review