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xXx review

Want to know what to expect from xXx? Then please excuse us while we get horribly postmodern for a moment: imagine Q has stepped out of the Bond franchise, perused the whole series, shaken his head and decided it's time for an update. "Follow me 007, let's get you kitted out. Muscles, tattoos, attitude? Here you go. Bigger, better, boomier weapons? I have them right here. And how about some dodgy German death metal to bolster the soundtrack? Now do be careful, Bond..."

So who is this debutant 007? The name's Diesel, Vin Diesel, and anyone who's seen this avalanche-voiced mountain of a man in Pitch Black or The Fast And The Furious will know what he's made of. Sizing up to Her Majesty's finest isn't a problem...

Anyway, here's the deal: we now live in a criminal (under) world where suave, tuxedo-clad spies can't pass for anything but suave, tuxedo-clad spies. Sending them undercover is like chucking a bleeding baby into a shark tank. A new breed of secret agent is required. Agents like Xander Cage, AKA xXx, an ink-covered, extreme sports, adrenaline-junkie felon. Cool.

Not that he wants to work for Uncle Sam, you understand. It's just that he's got sod all choice, for NSA bigbod Samuel L Jackson (slick as ever) promises a quiet life behind bars if he refuses. His mission - and he bloody well has to accept it - is to infiltrate a Prague-based gaggle of Eurotrash anarchists. They're about to destroy the world, you know.

xXx isn't a movie that's concerned with originality. Bond nods aside - - and they're plentiful - - it also plays like an '80s-style action pic, replete with overblown stunts (all of 'em), magic bullets (look, they can miss Vin by an inch - every time!) and some truly dire pay-off lines ("I told you smoking would kill you"). It also sees director Rob The Fast And The Furious Cohen again work from a script that overwrites Point Break: the tight gang of crims, the infiltrator, the wavering sense of duty ("These guys aren't as bad as you think") and the burgeoning love between undercover agent and gang leader's missus (Asia Argento, great value as a junkpunk vamp).

So how does it get away with it? Because the filmmakers have their tongues lolling happily in their cheeks. This is a movie that's not only ludicrous but knows that it's ludicrous - - and it knows that we know it's ludicrous, too. Motorbikes leap 30 feet in the air, customised binoculars see through brick walls (and, of course, women's clothing), a Pontiac GTO is rammed with enough firepower to overthrow Saddam Hussein and a gigantic avalanche is no match for Vin on a snowboard.

Okay, so it's not as cool as it wants to be and it's not nearly as funny as it damn well should be. But it is brash, ballsy and bursting with big, blaring bangs. And that'll do for a Friday night.

James Bond. In a rock video. With a rocket up his arse. Rob Cohen's latest is empty but explosive, engaging brawn before brain to get those adrenaline glands pulsing.

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