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Kamis, 09 Desember 2010

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage

http://www.mannythemovieguy.com/images/vin_diesel_xxx.jpg

Nobody remembers a single thing about XXX. The movie’s defining characteristic is that it debuted at the peak of Vin Diesel’s popularity. He could have been in a movie called "Scrubbles: Journey to Grimble Cove," and the movie would’ve banged out an 80 million dollar opening weekend.

But XXX was a bit of a Trojan horse. On the outside, it appeared to be a hit. On the inside though, there was something else stirring. The movie left a lot of people feeling like Vin Diesel was trying too hard – playing so specifically to what was believed to be his target audience that it came off as…calculated – the result of some studio “blockbuster equation.” In short, he looked like a man with 13 studio executives in his ear. The mythology-heavy “Chronicles of Riddick” did him no favors as it played like something gunning for a “Mystery Science Theater 3000” reunion. And then there was that movie where he banged a duck. Or became BFF’s with a duck. Or did something to a duck. Talk about complicating your brand image. The mistakes piled up and Diesel was riding perilously close to becoming a Hollywood joke.

Well thank God for Fast and Furious, right? Whoever’s idea it was to forego the traditional let’s-show-the-whole-movie-in-the-trailer trailer and instead play out the hijacking of fuel trucks at the height of the gas price boom was clearly a genius and deserves a comfy corner office on the Universal lot. That trailer made me want to see The Fast And The Furious again. Which isn’t easy when you’re talking about a third sequel. And when the movie doubled its predicted opening weekend take, the folks responsible for XXX lurched out of their 1 bedroom Gardena apartments, stumbled onto their Daily Varieties and lit up. Vin Diesel’s back?? There’s hope again!!

Which brings us to The Return Of Xander Cage , which probably should’ve been titled The Return of Vin Diesel, as the move feels more like a key stop on his publicity tour than a movie that needs to be produced. Whatever the case, whether we like it or not, XXX is back, and will be unleashed upon the world in 2010 or 2011. Contrary to popular belief there is a script to this thing. And I read it. So let’s find out what the bald one has gotten himself into.

XXX2 starts out with a little bit of old and a little bit of new. Ten nuclear warheads are stolen from a remote Russian province by a mysterious entity who we will find out later is a former Russian billionaire named Alexi. Alexi’s been feeling the financial pinch just like the rest of us, except while we work a couple extra hours of overtime to make ends meet, he steals thermo-nuclear warheads and sells them on the open market.
Cut to a random freight ship on the open sea that’s about to be boarded by bigger uglier Hollywood versions of Somali pirates. These pirates don’t know that Vin Diesel (looking like a modern day Blackbeard) is stowed away on the ship. So while the pirates round up the crew, Vin heads downstairs to a freight full of MERCEDES BENZES, car jacks one (yes, we’re still on a boat), pulls it onto the deck, races it along the top of the boat, turbos up into the air a la David Hasslehoff, and splatters the pirates against the railing. Afterwards Xander emerges and screams, “Holy shit! I can believe that worked!”

This high-profile act gets him noticed by the same super secret government division (SSGD) that hasn’t been able to locate him since the first film. We know this because they hired Ice Cube in the meantime. After Vin levels Samuel Jackson with a few zingers, Mr. Jackson lays down the situation. They need Vin’s help. Why him? He takes Diesel down to a Level 48 holding cell where Vin sees…Vin 2! Or someone who looks exactly like Vin, except with a combover and a British accent. Vin 2 is actually an international criminal known as “The End” who has ties with the Russians that stole the nukes! They need Vin 1 to impersonate Vin 2 to get the Russians to tell them where the missiles are.

Man, you guys are still here? I commend you.

So Xander and his gorgeous tough-as-nails agency contact, Emily, head out to a hot club in Russia to meet up with Alexi’s people. Emily assures Xander, who – in one of the funnier bits - can’t pull a believable British accent, that the bad guys have never actually heard The End speak, which means Xander should be okay. But wouldn’t you know it, when they get there, the bad guys have recruited a friend of The End to confirm that it’s really The End they’re dealing with. Vin improvises the only way he knows how – by kicking everyone’s ass. This somehow convinces the bad guys he is who he says he is, which gets them a little closer to finding the nukes.

Vin and Emily hop from country to country, trying to find the missiles and trying not to fall in love, while Alexi and his army of orcs become increasingly suspicious of Vin’s intentions. At some point, Alexi kidnaps Emily, Vin is fired from the SSGD for being reckless, and Vin is forced to save Emily himself! I don’t want to spoil it for you guys, but Vin saves Emily and kills all the bad guys.

XXX: The Return Of Xander Cage is what it is: A big silly action movie. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be held to any standards. I’ve read tons of “big silly action scripts” and you can’t just throw any of them up on screen. There are degrees of quality here. The main problem with XXX is that we get to a point where we’re not clear what the characters are trying to do. We know their ultimate goal is stop the nuke sale, but how do they plan to do it? Normally, you’d set up smaller objectives which lead the characters closer to their main objective. In Die Hard for example, instead of going after the terrorists directly, McClane first tries to alert the police. It’s only after that objective fails that he’s forced to come up with a more aggressive plan. I never had that sense of clarity with XXX2. I mean at one point Xander Cage decides to go skydiving with Alexi…just because. It has nothing to do with the story whatsoever. And when you do that to your reader, you’re making it very clear that YOU DON’T CARE ABOUT THEM. If you did, you’d find a way to work that into the story.

And to be honest, the story in XXX2 is too generic. This is what I don’t get about high profile summer pics. You know people are going to show up. 100 million bucks in advertising will ensure that. So why not take some chances and do something different with the story? Try new things. Experiment a little. Does Emily really have to get kidnapped in the end? We’ve seen that play out 1000 times before. Can’t you put another spin on it?

If XXX2 has a strength, it’s Vin Diesel himself. He’s a unique combination of James Bond, Jason Bourne, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. And you have to admit, there’s something likable about the guy. When he’s dishing out cheesy one-liners like “Are you on Facebook?”, to The End, it’s hard not to laugh. But we don’t pay for a dozen one-liners which we can see on Youtube the day after the movie opens. We pay for a unique exciting visceral experience. In short, we want something *more*. And unfortunately XXX2 only gives us enough to stick around.