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"XXX"... action that keeps the adrenalin flowing.

JUST IN case you get confused about the nature of Columbia Pictures' latest offering, hold it! This is no x- rated film, but one that should thrill die-hard action lovers. This is espionage of the harsher kind. The kind that has heavy metal music blaring in the background, some really dare devil stunts and a secret agent, who is heavily tattooed, muscled and is not afraid to die.

"XXX" is a kind of James Bond, but with meaner action and attitude. That is one part of it. If you have enjoyed "The Fast And The Furious", which has Vin Diesel as the central character, then it's likely that you will like this modernised spy game film as well. Here he plays Xander XXX Cage, an athlete who likes to live dangerously. He performs highly skilled stunts and records them on videotapes for thrill lovers .

What makes them more exciting is that most of them are illegal. But sooner or later his risky theatrics attracts the attention of the authorities and to beat him at his own game, they make him an offer he cannot refuse: Do some international espionage or rot in prison! Unwilling to give up his freedom , XXX reluctantly agrees to cooperate with The Man — the man being Augustus Gibbons, (Samuel Jackson) the enigmatic NSA agent, who believes that a street smart thrill seeker like Xander has a better chance of getting inside a secret crime ring, than a traditionally trained under cover agent. And his mission: infiltrate an underground organisation of Russian malcontents, known as Anarchy 99, which wants to bring down all governments in the world with biological weapons. But soon it becomes apparent, even to someone like XXX that saving the world is a lot harder than it looks — especially with only a few days of preparation.

Had this film been strictly `only action', it would have turned stale very quickly — but the character that is Xander has an unexpected sense of humour that carries the movie forward.

Unlike most secret service agents, Xander is a reluctant hero who isn't exactly qualified for the high stakes espionage games. When he is not sporting the `what is going on' demeanour he is like a kid acting out his fantasies about big action hero dreams. It is refreshing to have a super spy who is straightforward enough to goof up now and then. The high point in the film is the dare devilry in the action sequences. Armed as Xander is with a gun that has capsules for every kind of situation, binoculars that can provide vision through walls, and a car so loaded with spy features that you'll never want to drive an ordinary car again, the fight, chase and blowing up scenes, all offer entertainment that keeps the adrenalin flowing. The romantic angle that the director (Rob Cohen) provides, however, is weak and most unnecessary. Xander falling for ice maiden, Yelena, (Asia Argento) is kind of dumb. The role of Xander Cage is all about attitude. He says things you and I would, put in the same situation.

But then he combines defiance, toughness and vulnerability that make him interesting and likeable. Argento is a big star in Europe, but has largely been part of the art films scene. This is a departure for her to play Yelena, who seems neither good nor bad and for most part appears like a moll, but appealing in her own way. Between cinematographer Dean Semler and production designer Gavin Bocquet, the film has several moments of large-scale visual treats.

The creation of rural Columbia, that too of a drug farm just a few miles off Los Angeles, is most interesting. Prague, where a lot of the action also happens, is most appealing with its historic buildings, church spires, cobblestone streets, twisting alleyways, soaring architecture — a popular location for many films in the recent past no doubt, but almost always has a period look.

The filmmakers converted a crumbling desolate church into one of the most unique anarchy nightclubs. The opening sequence of the film will really please rock fans as the director has put on stage German electro/metal band Rammstein — super stars in Europe — to recreate one of their highly visual concerts replete with roaring flames, eccentric costumes, and bizarre makeup. Hundreds of Czech extras, appropriately costumed by designer Sanja Milkovic Hays, are actual Rammstien fans.


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