Blu-ray
One to Avoid
2 stars
List Price
$14.99
Amazon
$7.10 (53%)
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$3.12
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Overall Grade
2 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
2 Stars
HD Video Quality
3 Stars
HD Audio Quality
4.5 Stars
Supplements
0 Stars
High-Def Extras
0 Stars
Bottom Line
One to Avoid

xXx

Street Date:
June 20th, 2006
Reviewed by:
Peter Bracke
Review Date: 1
June 18th, 2006
Movie Release Year:
2002
Studio:
Sony
Length:
133 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

I just don't quite get Vin Diesel. At least as an action star. Not just because he got his ass whupped in 'Saving Private Ryan,' or was the voice of 'The Iron Giant,' or speaks in such a monotone that makes Dolph Lundgren seem intelligent-like. No, there is just something too lighthearted, almost congenial, about the actor. After having seen him on talk shows and in that horrendous flick 'The Pacifier,' he just seems too... sweet. Despite all the muscles, the shaved head and the bad-ass sunglasses, he looks like a guy who would rather grill you up some BBQ in the backyard than beat you to a pulp.

Maybe that's why I couldn't really take 'xXx' seriously. It plays more like an unintentional satire of male action movie cliches (not to mention a pale imitation of the lesser James Bond sequels) than the serious spy film it could have been, and seems to want to be. Would you believe Diesel as Xander Cage, the world's most notorious "underground" thrill seeker, who the NSA decides to draft in as a secret agent? Why would the U.S. government tap some guy -- who is apparently more famous than Tony Hawke -- to infiltrate an secret Russian crime ring? (Really, I'm not making this up.) Diesel as Cage doesn't so much blend into his surroundings like a supersleuth as stand out like a fashion model. Had only Jean-Paul Gaultier done his costumes, I would have thought I was watching the "Die Another Day" number from Madonna's last tour, not a real spy movie.

To be fair, it is likely few will watch 'xXx' for its plot. And as directed by Rob Cohen ('The Skulls,' 'The Fast & the Furious') 'xXx' certainly moves like a locomotive. Things blow up real good, and nary a dialogue scene or two goes by before the next action sequence revs up. Cohen is also nothing if not an equal-opportunity demolitionist, with the stunts in this film encompassing all manner of vehicle and locale, from Diesel plummeting his car over the side of a bridge then skydiving to safety, to a ludicrous scene where Xander uses a metal briefcase as a skateboard. Granted, these sequences are fun to watch, but there is no real emotional consequence to any of this for any of the characters in the movie. Cohen seems to have little interest in his story aside from exciting our senses, which does get monotonous by the end of the film's 133 minutes.

Maybe I'm being a bit tough on 'xXx.' However lame-brained, it is never anything more than an inoffensive entry in the long, grand tradition of dumb summer popcorn movies. But I just can't help coming back to Diesel as to why I hoped to get more out of it. In many of the press interviews he did for 'xXx' at the time of its release, he talked about how he hoped to create a new franchise character, one that took the spy genre seriously. But, at least judging by the final product, it seems Diesel, like Cohen, ultimately ended up being more concerned with looking bad-ass than creating a real, believable superspy. Which is kind of a shame, because 'xXx' could have more than just another big, grand, soulless piece of eye candy.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

This is third Blu-ray title I've reviewed so far, and it comes after the mixed results I had encountered previously with the disappointing 'The Fifth Element,' and the better if inconsistent '50 First Dates.' Unfortunately, the disc I hoped would be my first knockout now leaves me batting zero for three. While 'xXx' does look pretty good on Blu-ray, it still suffers from some noticeable image quality problems that, quite frankly, I just didn't expect from a format that has been has highly touted as this one.

First, make no mistake, this is an eye-popping transfer at a glance. Sony has wisely chosen to launch Blu-ray with a variety of films that feature bright colors, plenty of action and are of a recent vintage. So when you first fire up this disc, it does look nice. But just like that joke in 'Clueless,' this transfer is ultimately like a painting by Seurat. From far away, it looks like art. Up close, it's just a messed-up bunch of dots.

The main culprit is the source material. There is surprising amount of dirt visible, and though not as bad as Sony's 'The Fifth Element,' I expect something a bit cleaner from such a recent theatrical release. Especially when you're trying to launch a new format -- it's imperative the best elements are used, or significantly cleaned up. The high-resolution of HD offer no refuge, and it certainly reveals all the source flaws with 'xXx.'

That aside, there are still problems with this presentation. Colors, though quite vibrant, sometimes suffer from a slight bit of bleed and chroma noise. Often it can be very irritating, such as the nightclub scene about midway through the film. The deep purples, blues and greens look a bit fuzzy, and detail suffers -- shockingly, the standard-def release looked a bit more stable to me than the Blu-ray. The transfer can also be wildly inconsistent in sharpness and depth. Some scenes look excellent (especially the brightest outdoor scenes, such as Vin Diesel's plunge off the side of a bridge), with great clarity to the image, while others look no better than a flat, two-dimensional DVD. I'd like to blame the Samsung player, which its reported faulty noise reduction circuitry, but given how sporadic such problems are, it is hard not to fault the disc itself.

My ultimate reaction to this transfer of 'xXx' is similar to what I said in my '50 First Dates' review -- it may not be altogether consistent, but in spots it does deliver a great HD image that rivals any I've seen. Only problem is, when it comes to the top standards home theater buffs now expect from high-definition images, "inconsistent" just isn't good enough. And the two main gripes I have here -- a lack of detail and obvious stairstepping artifacts -- just aren't acceptable on either Blu-ray or HD DVD. Maybe I'm becoming too nitpicky, but consumers are being asked to shell out a lot of money for these new next-gen high-def formats, so we reviewers have to be critical. 'xXx' just doesn't look good enough, especially coming on the heels of a successful first two months for HD DVD, which has seen a solid slate of discs, most with generally strong transfers.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

Well, at least the audio delivers. Like all of Sony's first Blu-ray releases, 'xXx' is presented in uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround audio. And it really kicks butt.

Unlike the transfer, I really have no complaints here. Loud, highly directional and enveloping for most of the film's runtime, this is a very strong soundtrack. Dynamic range is quite impressive, with very full mid- and high-range, and powerful deep bass. The subwoofer really puts out during the film's action scenes, and you won't be disappointed if you crank this puppy. The surrounds are also fully engaged for most of the film's runtime, and cleverly used, too. Sound effects, dialogue and the score are expertly placed throughout the soundfield, and imaging often feels transparent. Sure, it lacks subtlety, but if that's what you want, why are you watching 'xXx?'

Ultimately, my only complaint is that, once again, center channel dialogue is often drowned out by all the sonic fireworks. (Don't keep your finger very far away from your remote's volume button -- you're gonna need to adjust it.) Though, perhaps the sound designers were only doing us a favor, because who really wants to hear Vin Diesel's dialogue anyway?

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

When I first glanced at the back of the Blu-ray box for 'xXx,' I thought it was a joke. No extra features? At all? The previous two standard DVD releases of the film can loaded with goodies, so even if it is hard to imagine anyone really wanting to know much about the making of 'xXx,' of course that's not the point. Sony should really be stocking their first Blu-ray releases with tons of extras, not dropping supplements left and right.

I can only surmise that a.) Sony decided to drop the extras to maximize the bits for the video and audio; b.) someone in licensing couldn't clear the rights to the supplements for Blu-ray; or c.) I'm just too stupid to find the extras on the menu. However, all I was able to locate on the disc is a batch of Previews for other upcoming Blu-ray disc releases, like 'S.W.A.T.' and 'Stealth.' Unfortunately, the quality of these trailers isn't very good, and I wonder why they couldn't squeeze at least something from the other DVD releases on here. How about the director commentary (hey, it's audio only, that can't take up much space, right?) Or at least the film's own trailer? Geesh!

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

Nope, no exclusive bonus content on this one. Don't act surprised.

Final Thoughts

I can't say that I think 'xXx' is a particularly good movie, and far from a great spy thriller (for my money, skip this one and just go and by 'The Bourne Supremacy' on HD DVD instead). But 'xXx' does have a lot of action, it looks great, and for you Vin Diesel fans it is a must-own. Unfortunately, I can't really recommend this new Blu-ray release to even Diesel disciples. I feel the artifacts and lack of detail is just not acceptable for a high-def DVD release, and I don't get Sony's strategy when it comes to supplements on their Blu-ray titles. I sure hope there are some better apples in the next few Sony Blu-ray titles I get review, because 'xXx' is not really a good portent of things to come.

Technical Specs

  • Blu-ray
  • BD-25 Single-Layer Disc

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/MPEG2

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 2:40:1

Audio Formats

  • English PCM 5.1 Surround
  • English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH
  • English Subtitles
  • French Subtitles
  • Chinese Subtitles
  • Korean Subtitles
  • Portuguese Subtitles
  • Thai Subtitles

Supplements

  • Bonus Trailers

Exclusive HD Content

  • None

All disc reviews at High-Def Digest are completed using the best consumer HD home theater products currently on the market. More about our gear.

Puzzled by the technical jargon in our reviews, or wondering how we assess and rate HD DVD and Blu-ray discs? Learn about our review methodology.

List Price
$14.99
Amazon
$7.10 (53%)
3rd Party
$3.12
Usually ships in 24 hours Buy Now»