Agent McGrath (Thomas Ian Griffith) is in Moscow, on a mission to retrieve a special gadget that could hold the fates of millions in the balance. However, his enemies are onto him and track him to a nightclub where Rammstein are playing, a location where he sticks out like a sore thumb as he pushes his way through the crowd. Just his luck, the chief villain is an ex-military man called Yorgi (Marton Csokas) who spots the agent and sets a henchman on him: he takes aim with a special pistol and just as the spy makes it to the stage, he is shot dead and the other underlings retrieve the gadget. What the security agency who sent him needs is a man who is both expendable and capable - but who?
How about Vin Diesel, in what was his first major motion picture as headliner after his breakthrough with Pitch Black, announcing there was a new action star on the scene, one who as with many of his type before him was lampooned for being a musclebound plank whose acting ability was secondary to his willingness to perform stunts. Interestingly, his role as the heroic Xander Cage did not require him to get into any martial arts, not even so much as a fistfight, as he jumped straight to the activities befitting an extreme sports enthusiast, as his character was. Was this a fresh brand of action man who was reluctant to throw a punch when he could go way over the top in a fancy car or use a fancy weapon instead?
Probably not, it was more likely that the chance did not arise for Cage to engage in hand to hand combat when he could, for instance, slide down stairway handrails on a tea tray: far more flashy, and truth be told, far more glib, as no matter what Diesel was here, a three dimensional individual he was not. He was introduced to the story as a vlogger, recording his pranks (which involved that extreme sports angle) to upload to his presumably countless panting fans on the internet, about as obvious a way of fixing the plot in the early years of the third millennium as it was possible to dream up, since a few years later anyone with a camera on their phone could do the same and it was far less of an impressive novelty within that very short space of time.
xXx was typical of the spy tales where they wanted to portray James Bond, their biggest and often only influence, as a stuffy old franchise which was frankly past it, when in fact they would slavishly respond to and in some cases copy that series' most prominent elements, giving them a flashy spin that never really fooled anyone that Bond's success was not what they were enviously emulating. Even putting a 007-style agent at the beginning and killing him off was not convincing, since you could not imagine the real thing putting himself in such peril, and the thought that they would plonk a snowboarder down into enemy territory instead because they had less to lose was farcical. Naturally, that idiocy was what made this movie's fans conjure up excuses for it, and there was certainly no shame in enjoying a stoopid action flick.
Indeed, if you saw enough of popular cinema an appreciation for the downright daft was a prerequisite for losing yourself in escapism, and Diesel was the ideal poster boy for that form of entertainment. Of course, there's fun and silly and there's an insult to the intelligence, and xXx skirted rather too close to that line, over it into preposterous in more than one scene as Yorgi plans to wipe out half of Russia with a biological weapon because... er, well, it didn't matter that much, he just did. Somewhat inevitably, Samuel L. Jackson appeared in the M capacity to give our man his orders which he could eventually ignore to save the day, but he was too good for what amounted to a stuffed shirt part, wheeled on for the Basil Exposition. Asia Argento was your leading lady, a pouty hanger-on of Yorgi who inevitably latched onto Cage before the finale, though that denouement was weirdly naff, with a distinctly unimpressive chase between a muscle car and a poorly-designed remote controlled and weaponised boat which putted down the river to potentially unleash mayhem. Notable, at least, for its star returning to the franchise after a very long time away. Music by Randy Edelman.