Smarmy spy trash

Vin Diesel can’t act his way out of a burning car in the spy thriller XXX

Vin Diesel, in an astounding feat of nerve, attempts to perform Lasik surgery on himself.

Vin Diesel, in an astounding feat of nerve, attempts to perform Lasik surgery on himself.

Rated 2.0

Vin Diesel is on the verge of superstardom. With films like Pitch Black and The Fast and the Furious he achieved really big, on-the-verge-of-sick-bank stardom. With his latest vehicle, XXX, he’s ready to make that leap into Harrison Ford-Arnold Schwarzenegger territory.So why does he seem so bored and embarrassed in this movie? Maybe, just maybe, it’s because his eye for passable, fun trash failed him on this venture. Then again, maybe he’s just not cut out for this stuff. Perhaps he belongs in real movies.

XXX is artificial trash. Sometimes trash is fun, but this one reeks of every other spy film ever made, and we’re not talking the good ones. We’re talking A View to a Kill.

I’m not sure if the film is wrong for Diesel, or if Diesel is wrong for the film, but I do know that practically every sequence in this movie that isn’t an action piece is a dud. Considering that the best scenes involve stunt men standing in for the shaven one, Diesel can’t really take credit for any of the film’s successes. We get Diesel looking bored and acting obnoxious, then a kick-ass action sequence, punctuated by Diesel’s smarmy quips.

As Xander Cage, XXX for short, an extreme sport thug who steals people’s cars and videotapes himself driving off bridges and parachuting to safety, he seems far too laid back and detached for a man who’s hooked on adrenaline. Diesel’s cool, almost withdrawn persona combined with that nasty voice worked real well in past pictures, but falls flat in this one. He makes one long for the impassioned, lively charisma of a Bruce Willis. Heck, the late George Burns gave off more sparks in the Oh God films.

When the U.S. government needs a special agent to go undercover among criminal anarchists up to no good, XXX gets the call. His training involves a staged robbery in a diner, followed by a visit to Colombia where he battles a few drug lords. It’s during the film’s first chunk that Diesel almost appears to be having a good time. Then, he begins to fade.

Diesel can’t take full blame for everything wrong with this film. Martin Csokas gets the “Sucky Villain of the Year” award for his droning, accent-laden performance as a would-be terrorist with an unfashionable mullet and leather pants. He’s one of those villains that makes you want to jump into the screen and pop him in the face, not only because he’s looking to annihilate the world, but because he talks too freaking slow.

Also bombing is Samuel L. Jackson as The Man in Charge, who sets XXX out on his special mission and then spends the whole film grousing about it. If Csokas is such a problem, why doesn’t he shave his head, do his Shaft thing and kick some ass, Sammy- style.

The stunts and action are definitely worth seeing. A scene where XXX outruns an avalanche on a snowboard astounds, as do the car jumping and motorcycle sequences. Too bad each sequence is capped off with Diesel’s forced delivery of the wannabe one-liners. Perhaps a stuntman to deliver the schlock lines with real aplomb would’ve sufficed. Stallone needs the work.

It’s not that Diesel’s usual acting style can’t work. It just doesn’t work here, and he spoils the trashy party. You can’t fault a guy too much for failing to recite a shit script properly. If you can’t shift your tools into crap gear for a couple of hours and a paycheck, pick another project. Just don’t make it a romantic comedy, because that would be really painful.