Monthly Archives: October 2014
Okay, okay, okay, so probably the film is really called “Triple X,” but you try finding a suitable action film beginning with an X. I am excited that there was one at all.
Let me amend that to, “I was excited,” because while XXX has some fun moments, it is not, shall we say, an awesome film. No matter how “hip” it thought it was. Now I feel like I’m making myself sound old, which I’m not. I’m just not the teenaged boy towards whom the film is geared.
Anyway, XXX, directed by Rob Cohen, stars Vin Diesel as Xander Cage (yes, really), an extreme sports-loving, authority-hating…um…Internet video making guy whom the viewer is introduced to as he steals a Corvette, which he then surfs as he drives it over a bridge. After successfully completing two test scenarios (a diner and a cocaine farm) Cage is recruited by Agent Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson, of course) of the NSA to complete a special undercover mission in Prague in order to learn why a Russian anarchy gang stole a biological weapon. Somehow Cage proves himself adept at undercover work, and is quickly embraced by Yorgi (Marton Csokas), the leader of the anti-military organization Anarchy 99.
Cage is able to manipulate Yorgi into explaining everything Anarchy 99 is planning on doing, right up until they figure out he’s an American agent. Conveniently, Yelena (Asia Argento), Yorgi’s woman, for lack of a better description, is also a secret agent, but from Russia. She agrees to keep her cover in order to find out what Anarchy 99 is hiding in their basement (seriously). Gibbons meanwhile tells Cage to go home, but being the authority-hater that he is, he stays in Prague.
Yorgi shows Yelena the secret lab in the basement of Anarchy 99’s castle, where a team of scientists has perfected the use of Silent Night, a binary biochemical nerve agent gas that kills people near-instantaneously once they inhale it. Cage develops an elaborate plan involving an avalanche to infiltrate the castle and keep Yorgi from launching the solar-powered submarine (Ahab) with the Silent Night missiles aimed at Prague, Hamburg, London, and elsewhere. Of course, the submarine gets launched in the scuffle, and Cage and Yelena chase it down the river driving Cage’s souped-up GTO. Using his extreme sports skills, Cage is able to get onto the submarine (because it’s riding on top of the water) and reverse the direction of the Prague missile, thus having the submarine blow itself up, and the missiles explode under the water, neutralizing the Silent Night.
Of course, at the end, Cage gets a vacation, Yelena, and a new mission, which I’m assuming is XXX: State of the Union.
Let’s go to the criteria, to analyze this film that is basically an excuse to string stunt sequences together.
A is for… Accents
While not an accent per se, Vin Diesel has a peculiar way of talking. Either that or he can’t act; I’ve never seen him in another film.
Similarly, Samuel L. Jackson has a distinct cadence to his voice, and his unique chuckle that he does periodically.
Because the film takes place in Prague, everyone has his or her Czech accent.
The members of Anarchy 99 and Yelena are Russian.
B is for… Bad Guys
Anarchy 99 is a Russian ex-military group that wants to take down government in general. They don’t follow laws (hence Anarchy) and use “99” to signify the year they protested Russian government. They are run by Yorgi, who eventually truly proves his maniacal tendencies by killing all of his scientists once Ahab is ready to launch. Up until then he seemed like a pretty standard gang boss.
C is for… Chases
Soon after the viewer is introduced to Cage, he is being chased by several cop cars as he drives the stolen Corvette towards the bridge where he’s going to surf it to the bottom of the gorge.
At the cocaine farm, Cage steals a motorcycle that he drives around, and he is chased and targeted by two helicopters with machine guns.
Cage flees the Anarchy 99 castle on a motorcycle, while shooting at his pursuers.
During the avalanche sequence, the Anarchy 99 snowmobilers seem intent on chasing Cage as he snowboards down the mountain, but…he’s snowboarding down the mountain–eventually he reaches where they were anyway as they’re moving up the mountain and he moves down it. For some reason they aren’t even in the same section of the mountain as he is.
Cage and Yelena chase Ahab as it maneuvers down the river and they drive alongside the river.
D is for… Damsel
Yelena is clearly Yorgi’s girlfriend, or at least sex partner, and when she first meets Cage she is sarcastic and condescending. Yorgi doesn’t seem to be too into her, as he orders her to keep Cage entertained, if you know what I mean. She instead plays sort of “hard to get,” but I think Cage’s initial interpretation of her, that she has a heart of ice or no heart at all, is more apt of a description. He actually describes her as “cold, intelligent, and vicious.”
Eventually she reveals that she is actually an undercover agent working for the Russian CIA, and that she’s been undercover for two years. The Russian government has actually forgotten about her after its restructuring.
While she is a desperately-needed female presence in the film, she doesn’t seem to really do much.
E is for… Explosions
Naturally the red Corvette explodes in a fireball when it hits the bottom of the gorge.
The cocaine farm scenario seems to be one big excuse for a never-ending explosion sequence, as every building in the scene explodes one after another, and vehicle after vehicle goes up in flames as they are all shot up by the helicopters.
Agent Shavers (Michael Roof) is a gadget expert that demonstrates the power of his exploding bandages.
In the Anarcy 99 basement lab, the Silent Night missile is launched into the ceiling by Yorgi, where it explodes.
Cage shoots out an alarm panel.
Cage uses the exploding bandages on all of the vehicles in the castle courtyard.
Grenades are used to set off the avalanche Cage needs to take out the communications tower.
A runaway snowmobile smashes into a rock and explodes.
Once Yorgi is shot, he steers his boat into a rock face along the river, and it explodes.
As Yelena and Cage zoom along the river, they use a rocket launcher in the GTO to blow up potato carts that are blocking the road (aww, how quaint in the Czech Republic, am I right? *rolls eyes at the stereotyping*).
Cage uses the Silent Missile that is ready to launch to blow up Ahab.
F is for… Flashbacks
G is for… Guns
As always, for details check out the IMFDB.
In the diner scenario, Cage recognizes a “cop issue Beretta” and knows the shotgun the other agent has is loaded with blanks.
There is of course a shootout at the cocaine farm between the farmers and the Colombian army’s helicopters that are flying around. Cage at this point has no weapon, and is just driving around on the motorcycle he stole. In addition to being a scene for explosions, it’s also a scene for Cage to show off his stunt motorcycling skills, because all he can do is evade gunfire from the helicopters.
Once in Prague Cage is given a “multi purpose, multifunction field revolver.” It has tranquilizer darts, blood splatter darts to give the illusion of a kill shot, exploding darts, radio surveillance darts (what?), and actual bullets just in case.
Kirill (Werner Daehn), one of Yorgi’s men, has a sniper rifle that he uses to try to shoot Cage once they realize he’s an agent.
After a fact-finding mission, Cage flees the castle and shoots some people.
As Cage infiltrates the castle, the Czech police storm it, resulting in a shootout.
Cage shoots Yorgi with a sniper rifle, FPS-style.
H is for… Helicopters
The Colombian Army storms the cocaine farm with two helicopters that continuously fire machine guns. Sadly those are the only two helicopters in the film, which is unfortunate because Cage could have used one while chasing down Ahab.
I is for… Improvisation
Technically kind of all of Cage’s actions are improvisation because he is utterly untrained and has no equipment other than his field revolver. However, he actually improvises in the restaurant when Kirill is trying to shoot him by using serving trays as a weapon and shield, and then using one to reflect sunlight at Kirill so he can’t see. That same tray is then used as a skateboard to assist Cage in his escape as he uses it to slide down staircase railings.
Cage initiates an avalanche to destroy the castle’s communications tower.
As he and Yelena argue over Shavers putting anything useful for the Ahab chase in the souped-up GTO, Cage devises a parasail from the speargun and parachute in the vehicle.
J is for… Jumping Through Solid Objects
K is for… Kill Count
This is a tough call in this movie, because it’s unclear when Cage is using a real bullet or a tranq dart.
He does seem to throw a sentry off the cliff he just climbed up.
He fires a machine gun through a door, hitting the men on the other side.
He uses an avalanche to drown/crush six or eight henchmen on snow mobiles.
He absolutely kills Yorgi by shooting him.
The question is, of course, is he really allowed to kill all these people? He isn’t an actual trained agent of anything. Also, despite how many first person shooters he played while in traction, video games don’t prepare people to actually end the life of a real person. Bad guys or not, trying to kill him or not, killing another man isn’t supposed to be an easy thing.
L is for… Limitations
As mentioned in the movie several times, Cage has no formal training to be a field agent. There isn’t even a training montage before we see him in Prague. Was he really just dropped off with a map to meet his contact there? There’s a deleted scene showing him on the plane to Prague, studying something on a laptop (those images weren’t put into the scene), and a kid asks him about the game he’s playing. Computer games don’t teach people how to become spies! If it looks enough like a game to fool someone into thinking it’s a game, it’s probably not terribly comprehensive.
Gamer or not, there’s no reason for him to know how to handle an actual gun, which he doesn’t because Yelena has to flip the safety off for him. So… he really was just dropped into a foreign country with nothing.
M is for… Motivation
Cage’s personal mission is to teach uptight, anti-video game conservatives a lesson, which is why he steals Hotchkiss’s Corvette.
Gibbons tells him he has to do the mission or go to prison. He will also clean Cage’s record.
Anarchy 99 plans to use the Silent Night to destroy the world, in a slow, roundabout way. As governments fight over who launched the Silent Night, the world will implode and governments will disappear, resulting in ultimate freedom. Even Cage thinks it’s a stupid plan right away, as he asks Yorgi what fun is it to break rules when there aren’t any rules.
Of course, even when Gibbons tells Cage to return home, Cage keeps on going with the mission to stop Anarchy 99, because he knows that saving people and stopping the villains is the right thing to do.
N is for… Negotiation
Telling Cage it’s either the mission or prison doesn’t leave Cage much room for arguing, but he could have tried to negotiate with Gibbons for a better deal.
Cage and Yelena do negotiate over the price of the cars in Cage’s cover story, from a million-five to one million and ultimately a million-two.
Yelena will assist Cage in learning the secret of Silent Night in exchange for freedom from persecution, asylum in the US, and citizenship.
O is for… One-Liners
Corporate Suit at the NSA: It wasn’t our plan for our agent to get shot in the back–That’s reassuring.
Gibbons: Why is it always the assholes that pass the test?
Cage: I live for this shit! (the delivery of the line, or maybe the placement of the camera, is just terrible)
Anarchy 99 goon: Bitches, come! (this truly is one of those show-stopping lines of “wtf did he just say?”)
Cage: If you’re gonna send someone to save the world, make sure they like it the way it is.
Cage, before sleeping with a prostitute: The things I’m gonna do for my country.
Cage: This is gonna be one hell of a trick!
Cage, his catchphrase: Welcome to the Xander Zone!
P is for… Profession
Xander Cage is a professional daredevil thug/extreme sports guy, who seems to make his money by posting videos of himself doing douchey thuggy sports things onto the Internet. Does he have sponsors? How did this sort of thing work before YouTube was a thing? He is described as not being a sellout, and that he has devoted fans.
He is depicted as being observant and quick on his feet, and jumps head-on into action rather than deliberating. Gibbons describes him as not afraid of death.
Gibbons initially is looking through a file of criminal types in order to find someone for his undercover mission to determine the reason for the theft of the Silent Night, and describes the men in the file as “programmable, expendable, and they work.” It sounds like the Suicide Squad, without super powers, unless extreme sporting is a super power.
Q is for… Quagmire
At absolutely no point did I worry about Xander Cage’s fate. I don’t think he even gets a scratch, and even when he’s tied up there’s not even a fleeting worry that he’ll be stuck there. It’s a little hard to worry about a character who is depicted as fearless and untouchable, and also has the NSA and spy gear at his side.
R is for… Reality, or Suspension of Disbelief
Any sense of seriousness this movie could have been going for is entirely negated by Cage’s introductory scene, where he steals a Corvette, drives it to a bridge, and then drives it off the bridge while standing on the trunk, as he’s filming it, and then parachutes up off the car before it crashes. The police just stand and watch instead of driving around to the bottom of the gorge!
At the cocaine farm, Cage drives around on a motorcycle, and at one point has to jump the motorcycle through a wide spot in a barbed wire fence. Sideways. There is very little chance that he’d make it and not slice himself to ribbons. Besides, he’s running from helicopters, which fly over the fence anyway.
While escaping the castle, Cage (of course) has to do a motorcycle jump, and while he is Supermanning, he accurately fires a handgun and hits a thug. This from a guy who later on doesn’t remember to flip the safety switch, and who, as far as we know, has no formal or even informal firearms training.
With that in mind, how on earth can he be dropped into a foreign, non-English speaking country with no training whatsoever? He’s not already a criminal with extensive firearms issues; Gibbons can lock him up for grand theft auto and reckless endangerment, not violent crimes. Even Shavers is astounded that Cage gets to be a field agent in a week while he’s been with the Agency for six years and hasn’t been in the field.
S is for… Sidekicks
Agent Shavers is kind of a sidekick, in the sense that he provides Cage with tools that help him in his mission.
Of course Yelena eventually becomes one, because it’s always the female henchman (whether or not she’s actually a spy) who changes sides to become a hero. Heroine? Whatever. She also kills a dirty cop (Officer Sova, played by Richy Muller) who was about to kill Cage.
GIbbons might be counted as well, considering he has Cage monitored all the time and thus knows his whereabouts so he can rescue him.
T is for… Technology
The opening scene involves a stolen “chip” recovered by obvious bad guys (Yorgi).
The “Silent Night” is a biochemical weapon that needs to be dispersed via missiles.
It’s a little strange that people keep referring to Internet videos as “tapes.” The film was clearly made in that brief period after digital video uploading but before everything was created on and saved to hard disk.
Gibbons communicates with Xander via video phone, the sign of a true spy, I suppose.
Xander’s spy equipment includes his field revolver, exploding bandages, and X-ray specs, which also double as a camera.
Yelena works on her Sony Vaio prominently in the center of the shot.
The digital camera (a Kodak!) linked to the laptop.
The heat-seeking missile seems to be built on top of an ‘80s camcorder housing.
Cage’s souped-up GTO has a GPS in it.
U is for… Unexpected Romance
As per usual, the romance pairing is completely foreshadowed, and even that’s a strong word. More like bludgeons the viewer over the head. Cage and Yelena actually kiss 54 minutes into the movie. It’s also kind of annoying that, when Yelena and Gibbons think Cage is dead, and Gibbons tells her she’ll be safe in the US, Yelena says there’s no point, as if going to the US means nothing unless Cage is with her. Really? She’s known him a week, and we don’t even know what she knows about him that’s real.
V is for… Vehicles as Weapons
In a roundabout way, Cage is using Hotchkiss’s Corvette as a means of revenge.
Aside from that, other than fancy motorcycling, Cage doesn’t really use vehicles as actual weapons.
W is for… Winning
Once Cage’s cover is blown, he has to rely on Yelena to figure out just what Yorgi is hiding. She is successful, and Cage can devise a plan for stopping Anarchy 99. First he has to take out the communications tower at the castle, which he does by creating an avalanche. Knocking out the cameras and radio allows the police to siege the castle.
Meanwhile, Cage tries to stop Yorgi from launching Ahab, but he’s too late. As Yorgi flees down the river after Ahab, Cage is finally able to use his FPS skills and shoot Yorgi. Yorgi’s boat then smashes into a rock face and explodes.
Of course, now Cage and Yelena need to stop Ahab before it reaches Prague and launches its missiles. So, as the sub navigates the river, they use the souped-up GTO and follow along the riverbank. Using a combination of Shavers’s modifications, Cage is able to fashion a parasail and eventually lands on Ahab. Once there he’s able to physically reverse the missile that is ready to launch at Prague, and the missile fires into the sub, sinking it and neutralizing the Silent Night.
X is for… X-Rays, or Maybe You Should See a Doctor
I don’t recall Xander even getting a bad cut, let alone an injury that seems impossible to work through as he fights.
Y is for… Yesterday’s Problems Become Today’s Problems
Outside of the Eastern European politics resolving themselves differently, there doesn’t seem to be any way this all could have been prevented.
Z is for… Zone, In The
…the Xander Zone, clearly.
It’s obvious that performing dangerous stunts, via motorcycle, snowboard, or Corvette, focuses Cage and helps him push himself beyond what a normal person could achieve or want to achieve.
Though it was mocked thoroughly, the movie isn’t completely terrible. I’m sure the intended audience, which seems to be teenaged boys, enjoys it, though for someone looking for more than a semblance of a plot to connect stunt pieces, it might fall short. I do admit the extreme sports stunts were fun, but the cheesiness of it all puts a damper on everything.
Just a few final thoughts/observations:
I did notice there are no Spanish subtitles on the DVD I was watching, which while I don’t need them, it’s interesting that they’re not there. The subtitles are paraphrased as well, which is annoying. As someone who captioned and subtitled for five years, it’s as annoying to do as it is to read when you can hear the dialogue.
The film gets bonus points for including the German band Rammstein, because they are awesome and I’m jealous for anyone who’s seen them live, but because I like them the opening scene was extremely hard to follow because I was trying to watch the band and listen to the music. The band and music were very distracting.
Cage gets knocked out by the tranq dart and wakes up in a strange location, and says part of the reason he knew the scenario is fake is because there’s a market analyst reading the Financial Times on a Sunday when the market is closed. Okay, but how does he know it’s Sunday? He could have been passed out for several days; he wouldn’t know.
There are at least three prominent shots of that stupid “XXX” tattoo on the back of his neck. We get it.
Like Rammstein, Danny Trejo (of Machete fame) is highly distracting when in a film.
What the heck is up with Xander and his ridiculous fuzzy coat? What is up with these movies and the horribly distracting wardrobe choices? There’s Cage and his parka, Taft and his awful fringe jackets, the original Jackal and his awful cravats… Just throw the guy in a white undershirt and be done with it.
Gibbons did explain to Cage that he’s going undercover, right? So then why the heck does Cage just out of the blue tell Yelena he’s an agent? So terrible.
Ahab is just a disgrace. An utter, utter disgrace. How many ways can I pick it apart?
-The name “Ahab” surely references the Pequod’s captain in Moby-Dick. The obsessed-until-his-death-at-the-hands-of-his-obsession ship captain. Why would you name your WMD after such a tragic character? Ahab doesn’t win, and is really just insane as far as characters in old novels go.
-It looks like a landspeeder.
-It rides on top of the water, yet everyone keeps calling it a submarine. It doesn’t even look like it would function underwater, with all those spindly parts.
-It’s controlled by a remote control that looks like something in a 1950s science fiction movie.
-It’s powered by a hard drive that looks like a repurposed Nintendo. At one point it’s actually blown into to get it to work.
-It’s a submarine that is powered by the Sun. Come again?
-It gets launched outside of Prague, and its targets include London, and no doubt many other major cities that aren’t mentioned. The Czech Republic is LANDLOCKED. That thing has to maneuver a heck of a lot of rivers to get anywhere, particularly LONDON. Worst. Evil plan. Ever.
When Sova goes rogue and prepares to shoot Cage, Yelena fires at him and kills him, through the solid door. When Cage looks at her all WTF, she tells him, “I heard you talking. I could tell where you were in the room.” Yeah, right.
Cage and Yelena have no chemistry together. Their kissing looks horribly awkward and uncomfortable.
Maybe it’s because I was watching on my regular person TV and not a movie screen, but during the snowboard/avalanche/snowmobile chase sequence, it was impossible to tell where Cage was relative to the snowmobiles. It was like they purposely avoided meeting him as he came down the mountain so they could loop around from behind. But why would they do that? Their relationships to each other in space made no sense. They should have caught up to him before being swallowed by the avalanche.
After Cage blows up Ahab and everyone thinks he’s dead, he of course crawls to the surface. He makes no noise and isn’t visible, yet Yelena turns and walks from the other side of the bridge like she has ESP.
Logical fallacies and string-o-stunts aside, at least there was some fun in this film.