Marking the spot

Movie: XXX

Our Rating: 2.00

The same Rob Cohen/Vin Diesel brain trust that brought us "The Fast and the Furious" is back and all up in our faces with "XXX" (pronounced "triple ex"), a bordering-on-parody crack at the secret-agent-man action flick, as refined and realigned for today's attention-deficient PlayStation generation.

Unlike the producers of those cheesy James Bond movies, director Cohen and the rest of the exxxtreme "XXX" filmmakers save their expensive animated images of guns, cars and girlies for the end credits and muzzle-load this PG-13 motion picture ("violence, nonstop action sequences, sensuality, drug content and language") with twin barrels of noise and action. Inside of 30 seconds, somebody gets kicked in the head -- pow! -- while a whole Teutonic, metallo-goth scene unfolds in the most ass-kicking party castle in Prague.

That's where erstwhile extreme sportsperson, political activist and accidental secret agent Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) -- known to his friends as "Triple X" -- is sent after getting caught up in a "La Femme Nikita" scenario for his urban-guerrilla crimes against The Man. Cage is under the thumb of a National Security Agency spy master and self-described "authority figure" named Gibbons, portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson, whose badly scarred movie face is not sufficient to distract attention from the ridiculous movie wig glued on his head. Guess you can't have more than one cool bald guy per movie, so big ups to Jackson for checking his ego at the box office and playing the ball-busting straight man to help move the story along.

Oh yeah, the story. It somehow involves sending a bullet-headed, heavily tattooed potential federal prisoner who makes all sorts of interesting wardrobe decisions (the bulky, woolly lapelled overcoat may spark this fall's unfortunate fashion trend) to covertly gather information vital to the security interests of the United States of America, and maybe even the whole planet. During the assignment, our hero meets supercompetent supervillain Yorgi (an excellent turn by Marton Csokas) and tries to hook up with the very, uh, European Yelena (Asia Argento). Eventually, however, he rides the entire mess (the story) into the ground in a loud, flaming, mesmerizing ball of extreme automobile driving, extreme motorcycle riding, extreme skydiving, extreme snowboarding and extreme serving-tray skateboarding.

In other words, it's all the corny-ass stunts you've ever seen in any James Bond 007 spy movie, only with state-of-the-art production values and a regular/ cool-guy title character who won't have to start wearing a toupee when he gets older like Sean Connery did. There's also music by Rammstein, played loud enough to liquefy the areas of the brain that control the higher thought processes. "XXX" gets an "F" for letting the back half of its attempt to shake down the superspy-movie genre fall disappointingly right back into the boring and predictable, but Cohen and Diesel continue to fail upward, and the audience for flicks like this isn't exactly worried about getting good grades anyway. Just ask Austin Powers.