xXx (15th Anniversary Edition)
Released by: Sony
Released on: January 10th, 2017.
Director: Rob Cohen
Cast: Samuel Jackson, Vin Diesel, Asia Argento, Marton Csokas
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xXx is one of those movies that you can’t help but like. It’s brainless, never once concerned with realism. It’s hero, played by Vin Diesel, is as macho as they come and seemingly indestructible, an all-American James Bond variant covered in crappy tattoos, complete with all the one-liners. The movie is the very embodiment of the big dumb popcorn movie, an action movie that offers very little in the way of anything even remotely resembling substance, but plenty of highly improbable action scenes to placate the masses.
Diesel plays Xander "xXx" Cage. He’s an extreme sports thrill jockey, the kind of guy who operates outside the law and who does his own thing – and sometimes his own thing is stealing microchips and/or fancy cars. When America finds itself in a hot spot, NSA Agent Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) coerces xXx into seeing things from the government’s point of view. They need him to take down a Russian crime ring involved in some sort of cockamamie world domination scheme by infiltrating their ranks – if he can do this, they’ll look past his criminal past and hey, he’ll have the added benefit of putting ‘saved the world’ on his resume.
Of course, none of this will be easy. Led by a man named Yorgi (Marton Csokas), a former Czech Secret Service agent, these thugs don’t take kindly to people getting in their way. But then, they’ve never met Xander Cage… or his new friend Yelena (Asia Argento), a former KGB agent with ties to Yorgi and feelings for Cage.
Lots of zippy one liners, plenty of shoot outs, car chases and explosions. A villainous villain taken right out of a Cold War era thriller and a sexy, saucy female co-star. What’s not to like? Yeah it really is a Bond knock off, but Cohen’s film never tries to hide that. Rather it flaunts it – Gibbons is basically M, Argento is the ‘Bond Girl’ and we even get plenty of Bond-esque gadgets for our hero to use throughout the duration of all of this – and a tricked out GTO. Where the Bond movies at least typically try for some modicum of sophistication, however, xXx is a blunt object. Not only does the movie know it’s dumb, it runs with it. At times you have to wonder if you’re watching a parody – but then, we’re just meant to have fun with this, no more and no less.
The cast seem like they’re in on the joke. Diesel is completely comfortable in his own badly tattooed skin here. He’s cocky and confident and he handles himself well in the action scenes. He looks the part and he acts the part. He’s clearly having a good time. Asia Argento’s character is a bit more over the top in some ways, but she looks good and handles her role well enough. Samuel Jackson, sporting some goofy facial scars courtesy of an admittedly decent makeup job, steals every scene he’s in while Csokas plays the villains dialed up to eleven.
Sony brings xXx to Blu-ray for its 15th anniversary in an impressive 2.40.1 widescreen presentation in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. By and large the image quality here is really strong. There are some softer looking scenes and a few spots where there might be a bit of edge enhancement or sharpening going on, but otherwise there’s nothing to complain about here. Colors are reproduced very naturally and black levels are nice and inky without crushing out detail. Skin tones look good and there’s very strong detail and texture present throughout almost the entire film. There are no noticeable problems with compression artifacts nor does there appear to be any overdone noise reduction here to complain about. All in all, a nice job from Sony.
The film’s main sound mix is an English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, while Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mixes are offered up in Russian, Portuguese, Czech, French, German, Italian, Hungarian, Thai and Spanish. Subtitles are provided in English SDH as well as French, German, Portuguese, Russian, Czech, Croatian, Polish, Arabic, Italian, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Dutch, Slovene, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Romanian, Icelandic, Thai, English, Spanish, Turkish, Greek and Serbian.
The lossless track on this disc is pretty much flawless. It’s extremely aggressive during the action set pieces and it makes excellent use of all channels in the 5.1 setup. Balance is tight, meaning that dialogue is always easy to understand even when things are blowing up or zipping past you in all directions. The low end is strong and powerful but it manages to do this without burying anything else in the mix. The score sounds good and there are no problems at all with even a trace of hiss or distortion. Turn this one up and piss off the neighbors.
Extras start off with a commentary track from director Rob Cohen that is both busy and informative. Cohen covers a lot of ground here, from the casting of the picture to Diesel’s involvement to the original story to the stunts and locations and lots more.
From there? Featurettes aplenty, most carried over from the old special edition DVD release from the looks of things. The only new piece here is a six minute featurette called Origins Of A Renegade where most of the principal cast and crew members talk about their work on the picture and look back on the movie rather fondly before we then get some promo footage for the new film xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage.
Getting down into the carried over material? We get two Filmmaker Diary pieces here running forty minutes in total wherein Cohen talks about the pre-production and post-production work on the film respectively. In the seven minute Diesel Powered those who shared the screen with the film’s leading man talk about how great he is to work with while in the Visual Effects How To's section we get three short one minute segments that give us a very quick look at how the three main stunt sequences in the movie were put together. Starz! On the Set - The Making of xXx is just what it sounds like, a fairly promotional in nature piece that takes a look at the set of the film by way of roughly fourteen minutes of behind the scenes footage. Agent Shavers' Gadgets Presentation is an amusing four minutes with Michael Roof showing off the gadgets that are used during Cage’s mission while Designing the World Of xXx is a more substantial fifteen minute bit that shows of various aspects of the movie’s production design. Building Speed: The Vehicles Of xXx is seven minutes of exploring the muscle cars that are used throughout the movie with some focus on Cage’s particular ride. Lots of stuff here and while some of it does cover the same ground that Cohen goes over in his commentary track, so be it – the added plus of the visuals accompanying all the talking heads makes some of this stuff pretty interesting to see regardless.
Rounding out the extras on the disc are the avalanche and drug farm sequences that are presented contrasted against their original storyboards, fifteen minutes of deleted scenes, the uncut end credits sequence, two music videos, a theatrical trailer, animated menus and chapter selection.
The Final Word:
xXx really is big, dumb brainless fun. Not everything has to be deep or through provoking to work – Diesel and Argento are fun to watch together, Jackson is a kick in his supporting part and the action is as intense as it is insanely stupid. Sony’s 15th Anniversary Blu-ray looks and sounds great and if extras are your thing, there’s loads of them here.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!