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'XXX' excels in adventure

By PHILIP BOOTH, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 2, 2003

XXX (PG-13)

Xander Cage, aka Triple X (Vin Diesel) is an ex-criminal James Bond for the extreme-sports generation in a high-action thriller that moves so quickly a viewer won't have the chance to worry about the script's myriad implausibilities.

Then again, that's not really the point: This is mostly about what happens when Rob Cohen winds up his Fast and the Furious star, places the guy in a big-budget vehicle and watches him rip. Diesel, doing some of his own stunts, flies through the air on a motorcycle, grapples with a fast-moving watercraft and much more.

Oh, yeah, the plot: Triple X is called on to infiltrate a crime ring led by a nihilistic Czech (Marton Csokas) bent on taking over the world, and our tattooed, shiny-headed hero accomplishes his mission with daring and panache.

Cohen tosses in a sexy secret agent (Asia Argento) for good measure, and Samuel L. Jackson is underused as the equivalent of Bond's Agent M. The Prague sequences are beautifully photographed. Call it the year's guiltiest pleasure, the start of a new franchise openly inspired by 007's exploits.

DVD extras: Everything you ever wanted to know about XXX, and more, is offered, with a commentary; 11 deleted scenes; a fairly informative documentary; and other features.

Rent it if you enjoy: James Bond movies; The Fast and the Furious.

Barbershop (PG-13)

Jesse Jackson, thankfully, didn't succeed in his efforts to force director Tim Story into removing several controversial lines of dialogue from Barbershop, the warm and funny tale of a hair-cutting hangout on the south side of Chicago. Public reaction to the movie has been so positive that a sequel is in the works.

On second viewing, the irreverent remarks about civil rights icons, including Jackson himself, made by a goofy older barber played by Cedric the Entertainer are in keeping with the guy's character: He enjoys putting folks on, and seeing people squirm at his patently outrageous declarations.

Cedric is consistently watchable, and Ice Cube is instantly likable as the owner of the barbershop, desperate to regain his family-operated store after selling it to the local loan shark (Keith David). Eve is sassy as the lone woman, Troy Garity strikes the right tone as the token white man, and Sean Patrick Thomas is good as the know-it-all college kid. The scenes in the shop are entertaining, but the story is fairly predictable.

DVD extras: Story writer Don D. Scott and two producers are heard on a worthwhile commentary, and the package includes seven deleted scenes, several of which will appeal to fans of the movie's characters. Three short behind-the-scenes features cover set design, costume design and the genesis and creation of the movie.

Rent it if you enjoy: Workplace comedies; Ice Cube's Friday movies.

Hey Arnold! The Movie (PG)

Hey Arnold!, the Nickelodeon animated series, comes to the big screen, and the results are sure to please fans of the television show. The fourth-grader with the big head, and his African-American best friend, Gerald, team up to foil the plans of a mean developer (voice of Paul Sorvino) bent on obliterating their neighborhood in the name of progress. Will the good guys win?

DVD extras: A Charlotte's Web 2 interactive game doubles as a teaser for the forthcoming movie.

Rent it if you enjoy: Hey Arnold! (the series); The Rugrats, The Wild Thornberrys, and other Nickelodeon offerings and their theatrical-release counterparts.

Eye See You (R)

There's a good reason the latest Sylvester Stallone disappointment, originally titled D-Tox, sneaked into theaters earlier this year without a screening for critics: The so-called crime thriller is utterly forgettable and derivative, a cheap imitation of better movies about tortured pursuers of elusive serial killers.

Stallone, last worth watching in 1997's underappreciated Copland, is detective Jake Malloy, whose life is a shambles as the result of personal tragedies. In an effort to address his woes and addictions, he goes to a clinic run by a former cop (Kris Kristofferson). It's the dead of winter in a snowy, remote locale and the place looks more like an abandoned prison than a place to recover.

The other patients are a collection of cliches with character traits derived from a screenwriting manual. Worst of all, Eye See You suddenly turns into a slasher movie, a variation on the same theme director Jim Gillespie played with 1997's I Know What You Did Last Summer. Gillespie throws in plenty of close-ups of mutilated corpses.

DVD extras: Eight unremarkable deleted scenes are included, along with interviews with the cast, including Tom Berenger, Charles Dutton, Sean Patrick Flanery, Jeffrey Wright, Robert Prosky and Courtney B. Vance. Stallone apparently declined to participate.

Rent it if you enjoy: Stallone movies; slasher flicks.

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