The Good, The Bad and The Badass: Vin Diesel
Remember, about seven years ago, when it seemed Vin Diesel's career was just about over? His run as an action hero launched with 2000's sleeper hit PITCH BLACK, and the massive breakout success of THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS had people pegging him as the next Sylvester Stallone. From there, he went on to XXX, which was supposed to be his crowning glory as the new action god, but then – strangely – things fizzled. His CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK was an attempt by him to move into the fantasy genre playing a character he loved, but in hindsight it seems like a major miscalculation and he wound up losing the two franchises that should have put him on top, with 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS focusing on Paul Walker's character, while XXX: STATE OF THE UNION was disastrously recast with Ice Cube (how did anyone think that was a good idea?) with the producers even using a lame DVD bonus feature to kill off Xander Cage, the guy who was supposed to be the 21st century Bond (a mantle that was first taken up by Matt Damon's Jason Bourne, and then reclaimed by the real McCoy with Daniel Craig).
Diesel did have a huge hit with THE PACIFIER, but it turned off the hardcore action audience he had been building. From there, he went on to do the disastrous BABYLON A.D, and his return to the part of Dominic Toretto with FAST & FURIOUS seemed like a desperate attempt to relaunch his career. Well, whatever it was, it certainly worked as the film went on to gross close to $400 million worldwide (noteworthy as the franchise was never popular internationally before that). From there, director Justin Lin and Universal re-branded the saga into a multi-billion dollar mega-action franchise, and Diesel's arguably bigger than he's ever been, with FURIOUS 7 (only marred by the passing of co-star Paul Walker) looking like it'll be one of the year's biggest worldwide hits. How big is Diesel these days? He's so big that it looks now like he'll even get another shot at XXX. Truly the man is riding a wave.
Many of you may be expecting me to list one of the FAST & FURIOUS movies, but while they're a whole lot of fun, they're not Diesel's absolute best. For live action Vin, I'd have to say SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, even though his Pvt. Caparzo is far from the lead. He has some great scenes, particularly his tragic death at the hands of a sniper. As far as Diesel as a lead, I give the edge to Brad Bird's THE IRON GIANT. While, yes, it's only his voice, I'd argue Diesel's as much of a factor in that film's success as he is in the FAST & FURIOUS movies. This one was shamefully under-seen back in '99, but now it's rightfully regarded as a classic. I'd wager Diesel's voice work here also helped him land the part of Groot in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (not listed in my top five as I count the part as a cameo).
One movie of Diesel's that's really solid is Sidney Lumet's FIND ME GUILTY. It barely got a release, but this based-on-fact gangster movie is ultra solid. Diesel – sporting a wig and a gut – is really good as a mobster trying not to rat on his buddies. FIND ME GUILTY also has a gem of a part for Peter Dinklage as his lawyer. If this one has flown under-your-radar, give it a try.
There are a few Vin Diesel movies that – to me anyway – are overrated. Fact is, I was never a real fan of his until FAST FIVE. I liked PITCH BLACK and even CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK (I despised RIDDICK), but otherwise, I always thought the original THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS was not much more than a POINT BREAK rip-off. That said, I respect how it led to better things. However, XXX is a movie that – thirteen years after it hit theaters – is pretty much unwatchable. The action scenes, which were supposed to be cutting edge, are a mess. The CGI is cartoonish. The dialogue – atrocious. And Diesel's hyper-macho posturing is uncool to say the least (legit tough guys never have to do any posing). Even worse is his total lack of chemistry with Asia Argento, with the two of them sharing – arguably – the most uncomfortable kiss in screen history. Hopefully, if they do a sequel, they'll take a page from the FAST AND FURIOUS movies, although in a way that series has become the very thing they originally wanted XXX to be.
For me, Diesel really came into his own as an action hero with FAST FIVE, with his surprisingly cool throw-down with Dwayne Johnson. I half expected them to do some XXX-shit with Diesel, making him wipe the floor with the hulking Johnson (who's easily the toughest guy in the whole series) but luckily they didn't go there.
This fall, Diesel's got THE LAST WITCH HUNTER, which is getting good buzz. After that, we'll presumably get at least a few more FAST & FURIOUS movies and possibly a XXX which – again – will hopefully be way better than its predecessor.
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