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Vin Diesel Stars in Extreme Sports Espionage Thriller <i>XXX</i> - 2002-08-10

A lawbreaking daredevil brings his skill at extreme sports to international espionage in a new action-thriller starring Vin Diesel. Alan Silverman has a look at XXX

Xander Cage is an activist who stages elaborate and extreme stunts to spotlight what he considers injustice and hypocrisy. His rule-breaking attitude is just what a top national security operative believes the United States needs in a secret agent.

Vin Diesel, who stars as Xander Cage, has played a World War II soldier in Saving Private Ryan and a hotshot street racer in last year's The Fast and The Furious.While there is unrelenting action in XXX, Diesel rejects the label "action hero."

"I approach each role, whether it's an ensemble piece or a huge action peice like XXX with the same conviction," says Diesel. "I'm still going to go through the same process....Whatever procedure it is I use to become that character. I tend not to worry about whether the film I'm in is an action film, so I don't think in terms of being an action hero."

"Look at me. Do I look like a fan of law enforcement?"

With XXX Diesel recognizes that what began as a "popcorn" or purely entertainment movie has taken on added relevance given the national mood a year after the September 11 attacks.

"The Xander Cage character is the least likely in the world to be patriotic; but coming out of that experience I think we all felt this frustration," explains Diesel. "I think we all felt, no tmatter where we are in our lives or what we do, we wished we could do something. We wished we could be proactive. We wished we could make a difference. Xander Cage actually ends up making a difference."

The advertising for "XXX" promises "a new breed of secret agent and although Diesel is notoriously secretive about his background, it's also an apparent reference to his multi-racial appearance and appeal.

"I think that's important," Diesel says. "I think that's going to prove to be a good thing."

Co-star Samuel L. Jackson plays the agent who recruits Xander Cage; the popular and respected black actor believes XXX marks an important shift in Hollywood attitudes toward ethnicity and stereotypes.

"I've always said that as soon as the producers, directors and writers who grew up in a multi-cultured society start to gain some power, the palette of the cinema is going to change also, along with their experiences," says Jackson. "So now you have Chinese doctors, Hispanic lawyers, Black cops.... all the criminals aren't Black anymore. Things are changing in that particular way and heroes are now reflective of the culture."

"I don't know who you think you're playing with. I don't play this game."

XXX is chock full of breathtaking "extreme sports" stunts from car chases to parachute jumps to snowboarding ahead of a fierce avalanche; but by eliminating such staples of the action genre as gratuitous bloodshed and nudity, director Rob Cohen maintains the film does not pander to its audience.

"It's about having respect for the audience," says Cohen. "I have a 15-year-old son and have an amazing respect for him and his friends as human beings. When you have respect for the audience you say I know you know what Hollywood does. You are so movie-wise. I'm going to give you instensity, not profanity, sensuality not sexuality.... as opposed to the presumption of a bund of middle-aged, overpaid, over pampered executives, producers and directors who say 'the kids like that, give them that.' But I do think commercial movies work from intensity and I ride that red line of intensity right to the last bit."

XXX features New Zealand-born Marton Czokas and Italian actress Asia Argento. Much of XXX was filmed on location in the Czech Republic.