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xXx stars Vin Diesel as Xander Cage, extreme sports star and all-round adrenaline junkie, who loves nothing more than pulling off crazy, life-threatening stunts. This leads us nicely into the opening act of the film, in which Xander steals a senator’s Corvette, drives it off of a bridge at very high speed, before base-jumping to safety, all the while filming the action so he can sell the footage on the ‘net. What a guy!

xXx: Special Edition
Unfortunately for Xander, this little stunt earns the attention of the NSA, or more specifically Samuel L. Jackson’s scar-faced Agent Gibbons. He subjects Xander to a series of elaborate ‘tests’, in order to gauge his capability in a number of hostile situations (such as being stranded in the middle of a Columbian drug farm). Gibbons believes that Cage is just the sort of person the NSA needs to infiltrate a group of naughty ex-Soviet military types known as ‘Anarchy ’99’. Now Xander doesn’t particularly care about anyone or anything—other than himself and his need for the ultimate rush—but he is eventually ‘convinced’ to travel to Prague, under the codename of ‘xXx’, in order to meet up with the group.

Initially Xander just wants to gather intelligence and get the fudge out of dodge as quickly as humanly possible, but unfortunately—as is often the case—things don’t go quite according to plan. Yorgi (Marton Csokas), Anarchy ‘99’s charismatic leader, takes a shine to Xander, and xXx finds himself drawn deeper into their shady world (and a nefarious plot involving a deadly biological agent known as ‘Silent Night’). As if to complicate matters further, Xander also takes an interest in Yorgi’s beautiful girl, Yelena (Asia Argento), but can she be trusted?

I’d be lying if I said xXx was a brilliant film, as the movie is choc full of ultra cheesy dialogue and acting that can be described as ‘pedestrian’ at best, but then this is a movie aimed squarely at the people who loved The Fast and the Furious’. Still, even as someone uninterested in fast cars and the like, I have to admit that xXx features some truly amazing stunt work (especially the sequence in the Columbian drug farm). Even the aforementioned bad dialogue works in the film’s favour on occasion, with the best line in the entire movie coming courtesy Yorgi’s brother, whose idea of chatting up women begins and ends with ‘Bitches, come!’ I happen to think this is a classic, but I really hope it was intentionally that bad. Surely no one could have written that as a serious line?

Diesel grins his way through the majority of the proceedings and makes for a likable enough action star, while sexy-as-hell Asia Argento has undoubtedly managed to make a few new fans herself. The most disappointing aspect of the film for me was probably the way in which a tragically under-utilised Sam Jackson just appeared to be going through the motions. This is true of a good number of the actors, but then I guess it’s to be expected in a movie where character development is virtually non-existent. To sum up, I’d say the film’s biggest failing is its use of style over substance.

xXx: Special Edition
Video
Columbia Tri-Star have been known to deliver some pretty decent transfers over the years, but in recent months the standards seem to have slipped. First there was the disappointing Spider-Man, which featured a pretty lacklustre transfer for a major release, and now we have xXx. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad transfer, but it certainly has a few problems, the most noticeable of which has to be the inconsistent black level. This phenomenon is bad enough when it occurs once or twice throughout the course of a film, but when it occurs multiple times during the course of one scene, it becomes very distracting. The problem was immediately apparent in the opening moments of the film, and as Xander drives a stolen Corvette and talks to his all-seeing camcorder. One second the blacks are perfectly deep, while the next everything turns to a washed out grey, before reverting back to a deep black again. It’s most annoying! I also spotted a bit of grain throughout, but it’s nothing too distracting.

With that over and done with, it’s time to comment on the good. To be honest, xXx is actually a nice looking DVD. I found the 2.40:1 anamorphic image pretty sharp on the whole. Colours are also vibrant, which is especially apparent during a particularly wonderful club scene, set in what appears to be a disused power plant, complete with iridescent, arching blue electricity. It may not be perfect, but all-in-all this a good transfer.

Audio
If I had to choose one word to describe the xXx soundtrack, it would probably be ‘raucous’. Like his previous Vin Diesel vehicle (pardon the pun), director Rob Choen has chosen to assault the ears of the movie-going public with a selection of industrial, rock, dance and hip hop music. Nowhere is this more evident than the opening track from German industrial group Rammstein, who’s rapid-fire ‘Fuer Frei’, or Fire Free, is perfectly in sync with the visual and thematic style of the film. The band even makes an appearance during the opening scenes, and what a bunch of loons they appear to be!

Thankfully, the English Dolby Digital 5.1 track is more than capable of making good on the promise of all that noise! Directional effects and surround action are at a constant—whether drawing you into the heart of an all-out action scene, or simply for atmospheric purposes—and there are enough ‘room shaking’ moments to satisfy anyone. Thankfully dialogue remains clearly audible throughout, and all things considered this is one of the best Dolby Digital tracks I’ve heard in a while.

One thing I have to mention before I move on is the subtitles, which are player generated. While I appreciate that it may be easier for studios to do this, so they can produce dual language discs with the minimum of fuss, it looks bloody awful! Those of you with the region two or four editions of The Terminator will understand the problem. Anyway, let’s move on.

xXx: Special Edition
Extras
Like The Fast and the Furious before it, xXx features a pretty generous selection of bonus material. With that said, the features aren’t quite in the same league as that disc, so don’t get your hopes up too high, but the disc does feature some nicely animated menus (including an optional introductory animation). As with The Fast and the Furious, director Rob Cohen delivers another interesting and informative commentary track, with few breaks or pauses. I really enjoyed the commentary track on TFATF, and I’m glad Cohen was able to deliver again. However, he does seem to have a rather unhealthy obsession with both his leading man and Asia Argento, although the latter of those obsessions is entirely understandable!

Moving on, we come to the real meat of the supplemental material, which is grouped together in a submenu entitled ‘The Xander Zone’. The first of these features is a ‘Filmmaker’s Diary’, which is in a similar vein to ‘The Beginning’ documentary, as seen on The Phantom Menace (albeit nowhere near as comprehensive). The diary charts the course of the filmmaking process by way of behind the scenes footage and interviews with cast and crew, and is divided into two sections, presumably because of the limited attention span of the disc’s target audience. It does make for pretty interesting viewing on occasion, and it’s not a bad effort overall.

 ‘Building Speed: The Vehicles of xXx’ is a short featurette that showcases the ‘star’ vehicles in the film, namely the ‘Ahab’ sub and Vin’s revved up GTO. Running for a little under seven minutes, this featurette contains a good number of interviews with those in the know, all to the tune of the xXx soundtrack.

‘Designing the World of xXx’ is a fifteen minute featurette that concentrates on production design. Once again, this featurette contains interviews with the cast and crew, specifically with production designer Gavin Bocquet, interspersed with footage from the film and backed by the soundtrack.

‘Diesel Powered’ is a featurette that concerns the film’s star, Vin Diesel (obviously), and it runs for around seven minutes. The featurette is basically a Diesel love-fest, with everyone from co-stars to director singing his praises. If you’re a fan of the ‘big man’, this should be right up your street.

xXx: Special Edition
The final featurette in this section is the hugely promotional (almost sickeningly in fact) featurette ‘The GTO is Back’, which showcases the ‘muscle car’ that Xander drives in the latter half of the movie. This is nothing more than an over-long advertisement for GTO, who must have wanted something in return for supplying the vehicle used in the film.

Next up we have a number of ‘Visual Effects How-Tos’, which all feature optional filmmaker commentary, provided by Joel Hynek of Digital Domain. There are only three short sequences, all focusing on the avalanche sequence, but they make for pretty interesting viewing nonetheless.

Moving on we come to the deleted scenes section, which contains ten scenes removed from the film prior to its theatrical release, all with optional director’s commentary from Rob Cohen. They’re all shown in rough non-anamorphic widescreen, complete with time codes, and Dolby 2.0 audio. The scenes are interesting enough to watch and Cohen’s commentary gives valuable insight into the reasons behind their omission.

A music video for Gavin Rossdale’s ‘Adrenaline’ is also included, and is fine if you like the track. Personally I don’t rate it, and would rather have seen videos for the tracks by Rammstein or Orbital included. Coming to the end we have limited filmographies for Rob Cohen, writer Rich Wilkes, Vin Diesel, Same Jackson and Asia Argento (apparently the Czech actors aren’t worthy of a mention), and theatrical trailers for xXx, Anger Management and Darkness Falls, all presented in anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Well, there you have it, a pretty comprehensive selection of extras if ever there was one. Sure, it’s not going to compete with two, three or four disc editions, but it’s pretty impressive stuff considering it’s all crammed onto a single disc.

Note: the disc also features a number of weblinks to xXx related websites, which feature, among other things, the screenplay, a GTO manual, galleries, and, for those of you with a fast connection (or a lot of patience), some multi-angle clips, storyboard comparisons, and other video footage. The sticker on the case also mentions that these features will only be available until the 31/12/2003! I hope this sort of time restricted extra doesn’t become the norm.

xXx: Special Edition
Overall
I’ve changed my opinion somewhat since first watching xXx at the cinema. I came away from that showing actively disliking the film, but on the second viewing I found it fairly enjoyable in a ‘guilty pleasure’ kind of way. In fact, if you can sit back and switch your brain off for a couple of hours there’s a good chance you’ll like it.

xXx may feature some appalling dialogue, the likes of which even George Lucas would never dream of inflicting upon us (check out the ‘Playstation’ line for an example of what I’m talking about), but it’s all in the spirit of the movie. The constant, adrenaline-fuelled action, guttural soundtrack and explosive stunts should provide enough ‘no-brainer’ entertainment to offset the film’s weaknesses. When combined with good audio-visual presentation and a nice selection of extras, it makes for a fairly decent release, especially for all you action junkies out there.

Note: the region one release of xXx is RCE encoded, so you may want to check your player for compatibility before purchasing. A region three disc is also available, which is identical in content save for the language and subtitle options. The English language and subtitles are still available, but instead of a French 5.1 track, there is a Thai 5.1 track, and so on.


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