XXX can be accurately described as James Bond for the video game generation, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on the tunes you groove to. If you enjoyed the action, music, racing, and attitude of The Fast and the Furious, then chances are you'll like this modernized take on spy games. Vin Diesel stars as Xander "XXX" Cage, an extreme athlete who gets off on videotaping his dangerous and sometimes illegal stunts. But when his risky theatrics attract too much attention from the authorities, the government makes him an offer he can't refuse: do some international espionage, or rot in prison.
Unwilling to give up his freedom in wide open spaces, XXX (pronounced "Triple X") grudgingly agrees to cooperate with The Man. His mission: infiltrate an underground organization of Russian malcontents known as Anarchy 99 who want to bring down all governments everywhere with biological weapons. He is recruited by the enigmatic Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson), an NSA agent who believes that a streetwise thrill seeker like XXX has a better chance of getting inside a secret crime ring than a traditionally trained, undercover square. It's not long before XXX discovers that saving the world is a lot harder than it looks, especially with only a few days of preparation...
Admittedly, I had severe reservations about XXX, as the trailers depict it as a heartless, one-dimensional disaster with zero personality. Had this film been strictly asskicking, it would have turned stale very quickly--fortunately, the title character has an unexpected sense of humor that carries the movie.
Unlike most secret agents, Xander Cage is a reluctant hero who isn't exactly qualified for the high stakes espionage game. When he's not sporting a confused "What the hell is this?" demeanor, he's acting like a kid living out big action hero dreams. Some advice he offers: "You got a bazooka! Dude, stop thinking Prague police and start thinking PlayStation...blow sh*t up!" It's a refreshing change of pace to have a superspy who is so straightforward that he's prone to make such comments, and to occasionally make careless errors as well (at one point, XXX obtains an important bank account number only to misplace it the next morning; later, he forgets to turn off his gun's safety before charging into battle).
A positive element that XXX shares with the Bond franchise is an infatuation with gadgets and gizmos. Among Xander Cage's toys are an insanely bad ass gun, x-ray binoculars that can see all the right things, and a car so ridiculously loaded with crap that a single glimpse at the dashboard is a spy movie spoof in and of itself. The relationship between XXX and Gibbons also serves up more comedy than one might expect.
On the downside, the action in XXX is average for a movie of this genre. The fight scenes, chase scenes, and stuff-blowing-up scenes all offer diversion that's entertaining enough, but none of it is worth writing home about. Everything is less than groundbreaking, and certain sequences last too long and get tedious. Indeed, the general pacing of the story is often too sluggish for a straight-up action flick, and at two hours, it seems grievously overextended--a simple premise stretched thin over a bloated runtime.
Another weak point is the romantic subplot in which XXX falls head over heels for an uptight ice princess played by Asia Argento. She makes for a decent partner in espionage, but the prospect of true love here amounts to nothing more than a flimsy, token afterthought.
So is XXX really a "new breed of secret agent"? I suppose it depends on what you're referring to. If you're talking about the character played by Vin Diesel, then the answer is yes: Xander Cage is a James Bond with personality, who says things that you or I might say if put in the same situation. But if you're talking about the film, then the answer is a resounding no: XXX the movie is the same old pyrotechnic display we've come to expect from action-heavy spy films, with the inability to be as edgy as it should have been.
Rating: 6 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)