Directed by Rob Cohen starring Vin Diesel, Asia Argento, Marton Csokas and Samuel L Jackson.

Mad, bald and dangerous to know. Vin Diesel's tough guys have given action movie fans to cheer about in recent years. As psycho killer turned hero Riddick, he transformed 'Pitch Black' into a decent sci-fi horror, his turn as car thief Toretto was the best thing about 'The Fast and The Furious' and now comes 'xXx', Diesel's chance to save mankind - and a very poor script.

The title is the nickname of Xander Cage, a car stealing, bridge jumping extreme sports icon who brushes with the law one too many times and gets an offer he can't refuse from the government: help us or go to jail. So xXx is forced to infiltrate a group of Prague-based terrorists called Anarchy 99 and figure out just how they like their global annihilation. But, as the face of bad boy sports, it's pointless in xXx going undercover, he just has to turn up at Anarchy 99's nightclub front and ask whether anyone can steal him a load of Ferraris. And if that sounds like a mission where you make it up as you go along, then it's in keeping with the feel of the whole film.

Having directed Diesel in 'The Fast and the Furious' Cohen's approach to 'xXx' is to go bigger and louder. More audacious set pieces, the volume cranked up to nosebleed level and nu-metal blaring over every action sequence. Sadly, the same attention isn't devoted to the plot and it's laden down with every spy movie cliché imaginable, from Eastern European baddies with worse accents and a love of industrial music to 'no way!' gadgets and underground hideouts in huge mansions. It's so comic book that you expect speech bubbles to appear out of the characters' mouths during every scene and at one point, when Diesel addresses a group of role-playing CIA men and says their performances are terrible, you're not sure whether he's speaking in or out of character.

You'll spend the first half of the film marvelling at how Diesel's deadpan delivery and onscreen presence can manage to make the film watchable but thankfully Cohen ups his game in the second half and gives his leading man plenty of thrills to play around with. Just when you think he's completely forgotten about the extreme sports angle, there's a fantastic snowboard sequence that would make Bond lose his lunch and the finale, while so predictable that it could've been made up on the day, is still great fun.

With a take of $140m in the US, no doubt there will be sequels and if Cohen is still in charge he needs a more inventive script and some extra one liners. As for Diesel, let's just say the world is in very safe hands.

Harry Guerin