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2002, Movie, PG-13, 124 mins

Review

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Video-game kicks rule in this high-concept, lowbrow action picture, as cynically calculated as it is efficiently executed. Extreme-sports outlaw Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) lives to give the establishment the finger. We first see him stealing an uptight senator's sports car (the fascist fogie supports regulating violent video games) and driving it off a bridge, surfing the hood and parachuting to last-minute safety as the pricey wheels crash to the ground. Radical. Meanwhile, having just lost a suave, James Bond-style agent on a mission in Prague, veteran espionage agent Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) is looking for an unconventional spy to take his place. Even among "the best and the brightest of the bottom of the barrel," Xander stands out. After putting Xander through some high-adrenaline tests, Gibbons makes his patriotic pitch. Xander refuses — he isn't selling out to the man, not for fame, not for cash and certainly not for patriotic bombast. Undaunted, Gibbons switches to the DIRTY DOZEN/LA FEMME NIKITA approach: If Xander doesn't do his bit for flag and country, his tattooed ass is going to jail for a good long time. That works better, and Xander is dispatched to the Czech Republic to infiltrate "Anarchy 99," a gang of leather-clad thrill freaks led by disillusioned, former Soviet soldier Yorgi (Marton Csokas). Xander's cover — he's looking to buy stolen high-performance sports cars — is bolstered by his X-games credibility, and he's soon in like Flynn with Yorgi and Yorgi's lethal-looking lady (Asia Argento). Xander also learns that beneath their hard-partying, who-gives-a-damn facade, Yorgi and his gen-X comrades are masterminding a plan to plunge the world into chaos by unleashing a biological weapon code-named "Silent Night." The movie is designed to showcase Diesel's strengths (nice tats, surly delivery, wicked abs), pretty much to the exclusion of other considerations. Italian actress Argento (daughter of director Dario Argento) has a darkly sexy presence that occasionally shines through the testosterone-heavy bluster, but that's her own doing. The plot is minimal, the dialogue formulaic and the supporting cast loaded up with unknowns. The movie isn't hard to watch; it zips along at a good clip, never wasting time on exposition when there's something to break. But the irony is that, for all its "not your father's spy movie" posing, it's exactly like the later James Bond pictures: predictable, lightweight and 100-percent disposable. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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