Paloma de Papel (Paper Dove)

Part travelogue, part political statement, part coming-of-age drama —Marty Mapes (review...)

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No, XXX is not the latest adult entertainment feature. In fact, there isn’t anything very adult about it. XXX is an adolescent fantasy; an action movie with good looking stunts, cool cars, and big explosions.

It’s also the first time rising star Vin Diesel is allowed to carry a film with a leading role. Diesel stole the show in Pitch Black and The Fast and the Furious. His shaved head, gravelly voice, and muscular frame make him an imposing figure. But he has a presence, an intangible quality, that makes it impossible to take your eyes off him. A friend says he’s the next John Wayne, an icon so big he becomes the center of any film he’s in.

The Birth of a Series

Vin Diesel gets ready to blow some sXXX upXander Cage (Diesel) is an extreme-sports athlete. He’s an underground hero to the X-Games crowd. There is an impressive opening stunt involving a speeding Corvette, three video cameras, a high bridge, and a parachute. The Corvette is stolen, evidence that X (as his friends call him) is almost a Robin Hood: he steals from the rich to support his stunts, even if the poor don’t get anything but a vicarious thrill.

A world away, Agent Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) is running out of luck and ideas. A high-level agent with the NSA, Gibbons is responsible for yet another spy lost in the field. The latest casualty was killed in Prague, in a heavy-metal mosh pit, because he was unable to blend in with his James Bond tux and tie.

Gibbons wants someone like X for the next assignment in Prague. He wants someone who can infiltrate the “Anarchy 99” gang, and who can take care of himself should there be a need to get rough. With his high-profile rap sheet of stealing cars from politicians, X can easily be pressured to go on Gibbons’ mission. Gibbons thinks it’s appropriate that X has three Xs tattooed on his neck since he’s looking at three strikes, and he gives him the nickname Triple-X.

So begins the birth of a new spy series.

James X. Bond

It’s no secret that XXX borrows heavily from the James Bond series. Whether the reference is an homage, a ripoff, or a reinvention of the genre, the similarities are unmistakeable.

  • The movie has an international flavor, taking place mostly in Prague, and making use of local villas, mansions and waterways.
  • An evil villain (Marton Csokas) bent on world domination proves to be a powerful nemesis for our brave hero.
  • X is a ladykiller, and the movie is full of sexy and dangerous ladies. In particular, X falls for Y. Yelena (Asia Argento) is a member of the villain’s organization, but she’s on the edge, willing to play with X so long as he amuses her.
  • X’s M-like boss (Jackson) has little patience for his shenanigans.
  • The Q-like gadget inventor, Toby Shavers (Michael Roof), gives the movie some comic relief: his self-image is two sizes too big and three shades too sexy. And there are gadgets galore; in fact, there are so many gadgets packed into X’s car that he can never find one that’s useful.
  • There is even a scene in a big cavernous room with identically uniformed henchmen in the background, trying to look busy.

On the other hand, XXX is packed with many more stunts than even the Bond movies usually attempt. There is no formal wear and nothing you’d call “suave” or “debonair,” only tattoos. And our hero is huge compared to the well-trained but merely fit English spy.

The differences from Bond are both superficial and meaningful. Substantively, XXX is very similar. It steals most of its basic situations and characters from the Bond formula. Occasionally, it makes a change for the worse, like the ridiculous binoculars that can supposedly see through brick walls.

But in terms of appeal, the differences are great. James Bond comes across as wealthy, haughty, and smug. X is more of a common man’s spy (except for the muscles). Where Bond would recognize a forged Botticelli, Xander can spot a fake waitress in a diner. X is not entirely at home in world of international relations. He’s a little dumb, but at least he’s street smart. Maybe they both have broad appeal, but they appeal to a different core demographic.

Xander Cage Will Return

Four years ago, Mission Impossible tried to steal Bond’s thunder. Where the M:I series excels is its willingness to become something of a “great directors” showcase. First Brian DePalma directed, then John Woo, and next up is David Fincher. The Austin Powers series is just happy to have an endless source of material for its jokes.

As yet another competitor to the venerable spy series, XXX is horning in on crowded territory. Nevertheless, it’s likely to fare well. You can’t go wrong when your hook is an adolescent fantasy. Also, Vin Diesel has enough star power to do whatever he wants. If he wants to be the common man’s James Bond, I say let him. If he wants to make XXXII (would that be called “thirty-two”?), my only request is that he lose the binoculars.