xXx (Special Edition) 
DVD Action-Adventure
Written by Mel Odom   
Monday, 30 December 2002


Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: PG-13
starring: Vin Diesel, Asia Argento, Marton Csokas, Samuel L. Jackson
release year: 2002
film rating: Five Stars
sound/picture: Five Stars
reviewed by: Mel Odom

Take one of the hottest male action stars to debut in the last few years, add in a pithy collection of extreme sports stunts, spice with plenty of macho attitude and tough guy posturing, garnish with a bevy of beautiful women, throw in the kind of spy story that has kept a franchise alive for 30 years, then shake well till completely stirred: “XXX” is done to near-perfection for the action crowd.

Vin Diesel stars as Xander Cage, an adrenaline-driven sports enthusiast who has crossed the line one time too many and become a target for a recruiting drive sponsored by the National Security Agency. Samuel L. Jackson appears in a supporting role as Augustus Gibbons, the NSA agent who pulls Xander into the fold and sets him loose tracking down anarchists with the power to send the world powers into a deadly showdown. Industrial metal music and high-charged rock backs the performances and the exemplary stuntwork. The surround sound system provides as much of a treat in “XXX” as it did in the earlier Diesel/ “XXX” director Rob Cohen movie, “The Fast and the Furious.”

Chapter 1 spins out the opening credits. The total quiet of the Columbia logo followed by Revolution Studios’ logo is shattered by the blood red “XXX” that is emblazoned across the screen. Then the story explodes, breaking wide open with a suspicious man who immediately gets jumped by a ninja-suited guy who turns out to be a tuxedo-clad spy that puts the viewer immediately in mind of James Bond. However, where 007 would get in, grab the prize, kiss the girls, and get away during a spectacular firefight, Agent Jim McGrath gets gunned down crawling onto a stage as German industrial metal band Rammstein plays on. In his tuxedo, McGrath sticks out like a bright white golf ball on a putting green. The surround sound detonates with the cataclysmic licks of the band. Amid the controlled chaos that fills the dance floor, McGrath’s corpse bodysurfs the crowd back to his killers.

Wind whips through the surround sound in Chapter 2 as NSA agent Gibbons arrives, enlisted to track down Anarchy 99, the terrorist group McGrath was after. Knowing three agents have been killed within a short amount of time, Gibbons has come up with a new plan for getting the job done. He proposes that his people force one of the dregs of society to work for them, to send a snake after a snake.

Xander Cage crashes headlong into the story in Chapter 3 when he steals the beloved Corvette of a California senator. The Corvette speeds away, moving right to left on the screen and the sounds are mirrored in the right front to center to left front speaker. The screech of tires rips through the rear right speaker and moves up to the front left as the car powers away. Police pursuit echoes in the front speakers as Xander records his stunt for the video camera audience. The subwoofer thumps accordingly to bring up the tempo.

With all the action going on, all noise of the chase and Xander shouting to be heard over the rushing wind, the silence that fills the movie as the car speeds up and over a jump ramp from the edge of a bridge is unexpected. Seconds later, the car goes incendiary against the ground and fills the subwoofer with thunder in the middle of fast-moving rock. Party noises fire up Chapter 4. Xander meets and mingles, and the surround sound system puts the people, the conversations, and the skaters rolling the half-pipe all around the viewer. Before Xander has a chance to get really settled in, explosives rip the doors and windows off the hinges and armed men boil into the room. The subwoofer is driven into definite overdrive. Without a word, the new arrivals shoot Xander.

Groggy and disoriented, Xander recovers in Chapter 5. The quiet ding of a bell wakes up the surround sound system, followed by the gentle sound of Mellow Yellow music. After undergoing a surprising test, Xander comes to again and finds himself on a military-issue cargo ship with a group of camouflage-clad guys with assault rifles. In no time flat, Xander is dropped through the cargo hatch in a special forces LAPES jump. The exterior shot of the cargo ship passing the landing zone on
a touch-and-go roars across the surround sound system from left to right
prior to the jump.

Attack helicopters arrive in Chapter 7. The roar of basso thunder from the helicopter rotors rips through the subwoofer and segues the action directly into Chapter 8, which is an adrenaline-laced knockout punch of extreme sports showcases on a motorcycle. The chapter contains a pyrotechnic display of stuntwork, CG animation, and explosive sound that enhances the enjoyment of the viewer. Although much quieter than they’ve been in the last two chapters of the DVD, helicopter circle around the drug lord’s territory as Gibbons launches into his spiel with Xander. The strains of the helicopter rotors chip through the front speakers. As Gibbons and Xander pass a flaming barrel, the crackle of the twisting flames pass across the screen from left to right, cycling through the left front, the center, and the right front speakers. The footage of Prague is excellent, letting the viewer know that Xander has definitely become a stranger in a strange land. Chapter 10 introduces the Czech cop who has been pursuing Anarchy 99. After the man threatens Xander, they later go to one of the clubs owned by Yorgi (Marton Csokas), the leader of Anarchy 99. Delicate strings fill the club and sound perfectly clear through the surround sound system.

In Chapter 11, Xander makes contact with Yorgi, stepping right into the lion’s mouth. Pressed by the Anarchy 99 members, Xander gives up the Czech cop to get in good with them. The exchange between Xander and Yorgi’s sexy business manager Yelena (Asia Argento) is dynamite, showing one of the several stellar moments of dialogue throughout the film. Later, at the Czech police headquarters, the music definitely smacks of 007, and the meeting with Toby Lee Shavers, Xander’s own answer to Q, also follows that same pattern. The explosion as Toby Lee shows off one of the devices in Chapter 12 hammers through the subwoofer, coming from the left front speaker to match the action on the screen.

Chapter 13 brings about a tense moment as Yorgi impatiently awaits the cash transfer Xander is supposed to set up. Driving rock underscores the wordless tension, escalating our anticipation as the surround sound system kicks to life and the subwoofer throbs. The GTO’s engine roars like a snarling beast and the sound is propelled into the viewer like a direct hit from a sonic weapon. While Yorgi and Xander are making nice, the Czech cop is nosing around spying, then accidentally knocks several panes of glass loose that crash to the floor in a torrent of noise that screams through the surround sound system. The sound of the cop’s body slapping into a glass wall thumps directly in front of the audience with heart-stopping suddenness.

The club scene sound returns to the forefront in Chapter 14, filling the surround sound system with industrial metal again. The crowd noises around Xander and Yelena as he tries to talk to her and scope out her real place in all the nasty business going on surround us, making us feel that we’re plunging through the club partiers in hot pursuit. Later, the vehicle entourage speeding up the snow-covered mountains moves from left to right through the surround sound, mirroring the movement on the screen. Yelena’s boots ring in the empty hall late in the chapter, giving audible evidence to how big Yorgi’s mountaintop fortress really is.

The action rolls on through Chapters 17 and 18, filled with nice audio touches as the plot takes on full flesh and the audience sees what Yelena and Xander are truly up against. Yorgi’s plan is diabolical, mad, and — worst of all — possible with the operations he has in place.

Chapter 20 careens with explosive noise. The motorcycle stunts are impressive, and the surround sound system pushes the boundaries to bring the thundering blitz to screaming life. A series of explosions hammers through the subwoofer, growing closer to the front of the screen and giving us the impression that the detonations are not going to stop until we’re buried by them.

From that moment on, the action remains furious and the stakes are maxxed out.

The extras on “XXX” include a feature-length commentary by director Cohen that details a lot of the behind-the-scenes happenings during the filming of the movie. The dialogue is fascinating, giving a deep look into Diesel’s efforts to pull off this cutting-edge spy fest. The friendship and respect that exists between director and actor is real. The “Building Speed: The Vehicles of XXX” featurette is cool, revealing a lot of the thinking that went into the cars, the motorcycles, and the Ahab. “Designing the World of XXX” offers a look at the location scout’s job and what’s being sought search for when scouting sites for the movie. The 11 deleted scenes are
good, but a canny viewer will see why they were dropped to streamline the story. The “Scene Deconstruction” featurette is amazing, showing how various stunts combine real-life sports performances with CG work.

Although everyone associated with “XXX” claims not to be trying to fit into the James Bond 007 mold, the action movie follows the familiar formula to a T. Diesel’s character may come from a different home than Bond, but his heart beats with the same raw, rugged courage and the drive to save the world consumes him. Xander is a work in progress, still able to have deep feelings and fears that Bond has overcome or become inured to. And, like Bond, all parties concerned hope to turn this hit movie into a franchise. The second “XXX” movie is slated to be released in 2004. “XXX” is a definite crowd-pleaser, filled with sound and fury, incredible nonstop action, a beautiful heroine, and a guy with enough attitude for a Marine platoon. Fans of action movies will be happy to have this DVD in their collections.

more details
sound format:
English 5.1 Surround; French 5.1 Surround
aspect ratio(s):
special features: Audio Commentary by Director Rob Cohen; “A Filmmaker’s Diary” Documentary; “Diesel Powered” Featurette; “Building Speed: The Vehicles of ‘XXX’ ” Featurette; “Designing the World of ‘XXX’ ”; The GTO is Back Featurette; 11 Deleted Scenes with Optional Director Commentary; Visual Effects “How Tos”; Scene Deconstructions; Storyboard Comparisons; “Adrenaline” by Gavin Rossdale Music Video; DVD-ROM Features; Filmographies; Motion Scene Selection; English Closed-Captioning
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Pioneer DV-C302D
receiver: RCA RT2280
main speakers: RCA RT2280
center speaker: RCA RT2280
rear speakers: RCA RT2280
subwoofer: RCA RT2280
monitor: 42-inch Toshiba HD Projection TV

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