"Triple X," for that's how it's pronounced, shows every sign of being the "OO7" of the next decade or two. Starring a homely, shaved-head, gruff-voiced Vin Diesel, who has the most commanding screen presence since Sean Connery, "XXX" is an hour and fifty minutes of rough and tumble, logic-be-damned stunts that stop only occasionally for a kiss or a plot lurch. It's PlayStation come to life, or at least to the movies, and on the big screen all the gadgets work.
Diesel is Xander Cage, who comes with a triple X tattoo on the back of his neck - along with others on everything from his arms to his nipple. He's an outlaw daredevil who starts the film by stealing a Corvette from a man who doesn't deserve to own one (his bumper sticker reads "Skateboarding is a crime"), outrunning the cops, then driving it off a high bridge and parachuting down to where his friends, who've filmed the whole thing, are waiting to spirit him to safety. That's just the first five minutes. Then things really start to move, as he's recruited by Samuel L. Jackson of the National Security Agency to go into Prague - that well-known hotbed of renegade criminals that also happens to be a) photogenic and b) a lot cheaper for the studio than most other filming locations - and unearth a gang that's planning - well, you wouldn't want me to spoil it for you, but can you spell bioweapons?
Before that, though, he must pass some tests, including being dropped into the middle of a Colombian drug operation just as the police raid it. If he survives he will be allowed to go to Prague, though it was highly unlikely that he'd fail since the Colombian adventure came only twenty minutes into the film.
But I digress. Diesel is the real thing; we saw that last year in "The Fast and the Furious," and before that when he turned a supporting role into a memorable character in the underrated 2000 film "Boiler Room." His director here, Rob Cohen, who also directed "The Fast and the Furious," has mastered the art of filming James Bond-type stunts, including a parachute jump with snowboard, leading to an ultrarealistic-looking avalanche that seems to carom down the length of Mt. Everest just behind Mr. Diesel. On the other hand, he overindulges in super-slo-mo shots, as XXX flies through the air on a variety of motorcycles even more leisurely than the kids on their bicycles in "E.T," and he insists on showing those to us five different ways, and all in slow motion. It's unnecessary and bizarre.
But then logic plays no more role in XXX than it ever did in the Bond films, including the character of the requisite woman. The damsel here is named Yelena, played with a straight and beautiful face by Asia Argento, an Italian actress making her American debut, and doing very well. Jackson, on the other hand, just walks through his part in a reprise of his "Pulp Fiction" voice. He's been given a prosthetic scar across one side of his face, though if it's supposed to stand in for an emotional scar we never learn about it.
So we can say this is a truly stupid film, and it is, but at the same time it is guaranteed to be the flagship of the next 007 series, and that's not all bad.