'xXx: Return of Xander Cage': Film Review

Will tide over Diesel's fans until the next 'Fast and Furious' movie.
1/20/2017

Vin Diesel returns as the extreme sports-loving secret agent in the belated third installment in the action movie franchise.

Not that anyone was clamoring for it, but Vin Diesel has returned to his role as an extreme sports-loving secret agent who saves the world in the very belated third installment of the XXX franchise he abandoned after the first film (Ice Cube took over in the far less successful sequel). Fulfilling the mandate, as expressed by Samuel L. Jackson’s character, to “kick ass, get the girl and try to look dope while you’re doing it,” the beefy Diesel makes xXx: Return of Xander Cage a reasonably entertaining popcorn movie experience.

Actually, popcorn alone wouldn’t suffice for the film’s nonstop barrage of high-octane action sequences that make you feel like you’re burning calories simply watching them. From its opening sequence featuring Xander skiing through a jungle and skateboarding down a steep mountain road to its climactic battle in a plummeting aircraft resulting in zero-gravity conditions for the combatants, this is a pic that demands the accompaniment of nachos, hot dogs, candy and soda (the non-diet variety) as well.

To its credit, the film, directed by D.J. Caruso (Disturbia, Eagle Eye), definitely has its tongue not only in its cheek, but practically rammed down its throat. It begins with an amusing sequence in which Xander’s former boss Augustus Gibbons (Jackson, going wildly over the top) attempts to recruit real-life Brazilian footballer Neymar Jr. for his organization, only to be killed by the explosion of a fallen satellite shortly thereafter.

It turns out that the satellite has been brought down by a device known as Pandora’s Box, the picture of which should be included in the dictionary definition of “McGuffin.” And the only one who can retrieve it, naturally, is Xander Cage, despite the fact that he’s dead, or, at least, starring in the Fast and Furious movies.

Well, not really. Xander is actually hanging out in the Dominican Republic, where he’s apparently beloved by the local population. He’s brought back into action by icy CIA operative Jane Marke (Toni Collette, sporting a severe hairdo and seemingly channeling Joan Crawford), who offers him a back-up team of hard-boiled military types. Xander responds to the offer by ejecting them from the back of a plane.

Instead, he puts together his own group, which seems to have been assembled for maximum international box-office appeal. They include heavily tattooed sniper Adele Wolff (Ruby Rose, Orange Is the New Black); crazed stunt driver Tennyson (Rory McCann, Game of Thrones); sexily nerdy IT specialist Becky (Nina Dobrev, The Vampire Diaries), so immediately smitten with Xander that she informs him her “safe word” is “cumquat”; and Nicks (Kris Wu), whose chief skill seems to be as a DJ.

There’s another crew of badasses who at first seem like villains before forming an alliance with Xander’s gang. They’re made up of martial-arts expert Xiang (Chinese superstar Donnie Yen); the dangerous, and dangerously sexy, Serena (Bollywood superstar Deepika Padukone); British ex-Special Forces member Hawk (UFC and MMA fighter Michael Bisping); and blonde, Mohawk-sporting Talon (Thai martial arts star Tony Jaa).

The bare-bones plot — you could summarize it on a matchbook cover — is merely an excuse for the action set pieces, which also include Xander chasing down a bad guy by surfing on a motorbike (don’t ask). It all comes across like a montage of the opening sequences of James Bond movies, but the net effect is more numbing than exhilarating. And while there may indeed by impressive stunt work on display (augmented by voluminous CGI effects), the impact is diluted through overkill.

Other than the voluminous tattoos, anyone would be hard-pressed to notice any difference between Diesel’s Xander Cage and Dominic Toretto characters, except the former is styled as being irresistible to every woman that crosses his path. And hordes of them do, often clad in skimpy bikinis or nothing at all. More adept at the role’s physical than verbal demands, the actor is an engaging, muscle-bound presence, but the way his franchise-heavy career is going, he seems to be auditioning for a future gig as a Celebrity Apprentice host.

He’s certainly outclassed here by such co-stars as Padukone, who practically steals the film, and Yen, whose effortless charisma and dazzling martial arts skills signify that he’s long overdue for a Hollywood vehicle of his own. Such other supporting players as Rose and Dobrev certainly seem to be having fun, and there’s an amusing cameo that probably won’t prove much of a surprise for fans of the series.

Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Production companies: Revolution Studios, RK Films, One Race Films
Cast: Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, Kris Wu, Ruby Rose, Tony Jaa, Nina Dobrev, Rory McCann, Toni Collette, Samuel L. Jackson, Hermione Corfield, Tony Gonzalez, Michael Bisping
Director: D.J. Caruso
Screenwriter: F. Scott Frazier
Producers: Vin Diesel, Samantha Vincent, Joe Roth, Jeff Kirschenbaum
Executive producers: Ric Kidney, Gloria Borders, Zack Routh, Vince Totino, Scott Hemming
Director of photography: Russell Carpenter
Production designer: Jon Billington
Editors: Jim Page, Vince Filippone
Costume designer: Kimberly Tillman
Composers: Brian Tyler, Robert Lydecker
Casting: Anne McCarthy, Kellie Roy

Rated PG-13, 107 minutes

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