REVIEW: xXx: Return of Xander Cage

January 19, 2017

Review, Theatrical 1 Comment

"...there's no time for such trifling issues as continuity and plausibility when the fate of the world is at stake."
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REVIEW: xXx: Return of Xander Cage

Travis Johnson
Year: 2017
Rating: M
Director: DJ Caruso
Cast:

Vin Diesel, Deepika Padukone, Donnie Yen, Ruby Rose, Nina Dobrev, Tony Jaa, Toni Collette, Samuel L. Jackson

Distributor: Paramount
Released: January 19, 2017
Running Time: 107 minutes
Worth: $16.00

FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth

“…there’s no time for such trifling issues as continuity and plausibility when the fate of the world is at stake.”

Was anyone actually hanging for the return of extreme sports secret agent, Xander Cage? Were we really hungry for more of this franchise, which already changed leading men once when Ice Cube stepped into the top job in only the first sequel? Whatever, we’ve got one, and here’s the thing: it’s a lot of fun. In fact, xXx: Return of Xander Cage is the best xXx movie so far, if that isn’t damning it with faint praise.

What saves this film is its refusal to take itself too seriously. Right out of the gate we’re hit with cartoony pop-up character bios, cameos and cute in-jokes before we’re rapidly thrown into the thankfully simple plot. A McGuffin called Pandora’s Box can allow bad guys to drop satellites out of orbit with pinpoint accuracy. With the world being held to ransom, steely black ops spook, Marke (Toni Collette, vaguely uncomfortable with all this nonsense), recruits the only man who can get the job done – Vin Diesel’s titular extreme bro.

But wait – isn’t he dead? They actually made a short film, The Final Chapter: The Death of Xander Cage, to underline the fact. Well, never you mind, there’s no time for such trifling issues as continuity and plausibility when the fate of the world is at stake. Not being a man with much respect for the military hard nuts he’s been saddled with, Cage recruits his own team of rebellious operatives: Ruby Rose’s animal activist sniper, Rory McCann’s (yes, G0T‘s The Hound) paranoid stunt driver, and Kris Wu’s, uh, DJ? Sure, why not?


All the extra personnel are more than warranted, though, as the plot device has been swiped by a team of international super-thieves, including Ong Bak‘s Tony Jaa and Indian superstar Deepika Padukone, led by none other than Rogue One MVP, Donnie Yen. Thus the biggest suspension of disbelief problem you’ll have here is not the extreme stunts and the sometimes shoddy CGI, it’s the notion that Vin or, indeed, almost anyone, can go toe to toe with guys who have been kicking people in the head for a living for literally decades.

 

For all that Diesel is the star of the show – and the film goes to absurd lengths to portray him as a superhuman sexual tyrannosaur – he’s arguably the weakest link, mugging for the camera and delivering ludicrous tough guy lines while Yen radiates cool just by standing there. He comes across in a much better light if you can frame his antics as self-aware parody, but that may be a stretch. Still, he makes for a suitable point of focus and catalyst for things to explode around, and that is what we’re here for.

The action is huge fun, and while it never approaches the heights of, say, the recent insta-classic, John Wick, director DJ Caruso shows flair for staging, choreography and, most importantly, editing; while still well within the framework of modern rapid-cut action construction, you can always tell what’s going on. Again, though, CGI-assisted Diesel is no match for the likes of Yen and Jaa; that most certainly is not Vin skiing down a jungle mountain, while that most certainly is Yen (who is, lest we forget, 53 years old) destroying opponents in the boardroom fight scene.

Of course, if you expect any of this to come within spitting distance of “realism”, you’re gonna have a bad time, The xXx universe runs on the Rule of Cool, and any kind of narrative contrivance is allowable if it opens up the opportunity for a cool stunt or a fun cameo. If you’re okay with that, there are points that’ll have you cheering; if you’re not, you clearly wandered into the wrong cinema.

Return of Xander Cage is a far from perfect film, but it’s a fantastically enjoyable one. It rarely drops out of fourth gear, sprinting from setpiece to setpiece, too caught up in its own sense of fun to worry if any of this makes any kind of sense. That glib, rebellious attitude is infectious, and it’ll be a rare grinch who doesn’t want to come along for the ride.

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