Originally posted 13 August 2002
Movies: XXX, Full Frontal and more!
Sunday night. It's 6000 degrees. The Yankees game ended hours ago, and the Mets are on the wrong end of a rout. The paper's been read. Dinner's over. The dog is asleep. What's a girl to do?
Grab her neighbor, tape "Sex and the City" and go see "XXX," yo.
Amy L. and I trotted over to the Sonyplex on 84th and Broadway to find out whether Vin Diesel could add some fuel to our evening. Was it worth $10, two hours and a flotilla of pre-movie ads? Let me put it this way: Vroom, vroom.
In the opening scene of "XXX" (pronounced "triple ex"), a James Bond-type character is killed. Finally! The guy has been escaping improbable on-screen deaths for 40 years. Let somebody else take a crack at it already. Enter Mr. Diesel. He's got moxie galore and a body that just won't quit. "XXX" makes the most of those assets, and it has a Tony Hawk cameo to boot.
As we know from Bond?s escapades, the hero of an action movie must live on to make a sequel (or 20). Suspense takes a holiday, and the pleasure lies all in the way the star works out of danger and slays the baddies. Where Bond partakes in a little downhill skiing and tricks the snowmobiling thugs to crash into trees, Diesel's character, Xander Cage, snowboards down a near-vertical snowfield and intentionally starts a screen-bending avalanche that he outraces while it buries his pursuers. Yahoo! Does Bond know how to trayboard down a brass banister to escape mean Russian guys with grenade launchers? I don't think so.
But of course "XXX" steals shamelessly from Bond. There're M and Q equivalents, and the babes are all Russian spies or Czech pilots or whores. There's a tricked out car and gadgets aplenty. And the plot, such as it is, is a classic Cold War scenario. In fact, the story is simple enough--and the screenplay dopey enough--that title cards and the rip-roaring soundtrack would have been truly preferable to the dialogue. But it hardly matters that Diesel and most of the other actors can't really act. They're backed up by an army of stuntpeople (one of whom died while filming the movie), and they look neither shaken nor stirred.
"XXX" refers to Xander's nickname, not to the rating of the movie, which happens to be an innocent PG-13. This is both good (most of the violence is off-screen) and bad (so is the sex); Sean Connery had steamier scenes in 1962's "Dr. No." But Xander Cage drives Corvettes off bridges *for fun.*
Here's how "XXX" scored on a scale of 1 - 10 in my categories of analysis:
* Shoes: 6. Diesel wears standard-issue steel-toed black boots (and really ugly pants). The chick lead, played by Italian actress Asia Argento, gets to march around in some terrific thigh-high 4-inch (at least) stiletto-heeled black suede boots. They don't lend her cheesy Russian accent any authenticity, but if you can walk in those babies, you've got what it takes to kick ass in an international spy ring.
That might sound Bondly, but bear in mind: nearly everyone in this movie is tattooed from stem to stern. Most of the ink is not permanent, which is a good thing because one of the nasty anarchists has a dragon on his chest that caused Amy, who watches more MTV than most 14-year-olds, to utter, "Man, that is the tackiest tattoo ever." Vin's look pretty cute, though.
* Dogs: 0. A few mice sniff around a glass cage, and the movie is set in a world where everyone wears fur-collared clothing. Still, there are no wooflets in this flick.
* Cell phones: 5. Neither undue abuse in the film nor the theater. There is, however, the laptop silliness and retinal scan-type security systems that are de rigueur in action movies today.
* Do things blow up? 6.5. Things totally blow up, some even in slow motion. But this movie does not really cares about the explosions. Instead, it's focused on whether the hero survives or the villain is killed by the mayhem. Kind of disappointing, actually.
* Poker: 0. This seems like a movie in which people might play cards, but sadly, they don't. On the other hand, I didn't think even once about Texas Hold 'Em while I was watching.
"XXX" rocked our Sunday night. The outing would have been an unmitigated success had we not encountered a pair of killer (possibly Russian anarchist) cockroaches guarding the sidewalk on our way home. They were buff, and their tattoos spelled aggression. Without Vin or a pair of semi-automatic rifles for protection, we skedaddled onto the street. It was dangerous--we could have been flattened by a car peeling off West End Avenue--but we haven't been practicing our speed climbing for nothing. If traffic had materialized, we could have thrown ropes over the scaffolding in front of the Claremont apartment building and launched ourselves up the facade. I don't think James Bond woulda done that.
Here're a few other things I've seen lately, each ranked on a scale of 1 - 10:
* Sunshine State: 8.5. Marci and I saw this, the latest from John Sayles, at the Schlepperplex. Engaging premise and fantastic cast (gawd, I love Edie Falco). Like reading a satisfying book with full-fledged characters and good scenery.
* Read My Lips: 8. My neighbor Rich and I saw this French flick at the Paris Theater (quel coincidence!). It's interesting, and sexy, and different. Vive la difference and go see it.
* 13 Conversations: 6.5. Jackie and I saw this at the Schlepperplex. I liked it, she didn't. It's got a groovy non-linear thing going on, and most of the acting is very good. Alan Arkin is terrific.
* Tadpole: 6.5. I went by myself to see this slight, entertaining flick at the Schlepperplex. You know the movie isn't taking itself very seriously when it casts John Ritter in a fatherly role. Bebe Neuwirth is wicked fun.
* The Kid Stays in the Picture: 4. Rich and I saw this documentary at the Schlepperplex. It's about Hollywood producer Robert Evans, who narrates the movie by reading from his autobiography. I was seriously underwhelmed by this biopic, although some of the photographs were neat. If you go see it, stay for the credits, during which Dustin Hoffman does a biting impression of Evans that provides the film's only perspective on its subject.
* Road to Perdition: 3.5. Amy and Ilene and I saw this at the 68th Street Sonyplex. They both liked it a lot. I found it boring and sentimental, plus I didn't like the casting, except Stanley Tucci. Also, there was a horrible cell phone episode in the theater, too awful to recount. I will say, though, that the movie is visually strong, and it's not terrible in general. It just wasn't my thing.
* Full Frontal: 3. I saw this, Steven Soderbergh's latest, in D.C. with my friends Jennifer and Mat. Ooooo, it was so not good. Mystifying? Totally. Pretentious? Sure. Charmless? Absolutely. There is one good scene, in which Julia Roberts, playing a Hollywood star, makes fun of herself. It's 32 enjoyable seconds in an otherwise dreary film. I'd understand if you chose to see this simply because of its pedigree. But if you're unsure whether to go, I suggest you skip it and see its antidote: "XXX," bay-bee.