xXx: Return of Xander Cage

by

- January 20th, 2017 - Movie Reviews

Share

Insanely Silly Xander Cage Makes a Satisfactorily Extreme Return

After faking his death and more than a decade away from the spy game, government agent Jane Marke (Toni Collette) has tracked down the elusive Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) with designs on bringing him back into the espionage fraternity. A team of crack operatives led by the charismatic Xiang (Donnie Yen) have stolen a top secret device with the power to rain satellites down upon unsuspecting targets as if they were bombs, making him a lethal threat unlike any the world has ever known. But what gets Xander onboard for a new, top secret mission is the knowledge his former mentor Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) was one of the early targets, and it would only be right to make sure those out to kill him are dealt with in a fashion he would have approved of.

PHOTO: Paramount Pictures

But unlike his solo assault against Anarchy 99, this time the extreme sports enthusiast isn’t going to be able to take on Xiang all alone. With Marke’s help, Xander assembles a group of like-minded crazies including crack sharpshooter Adele Wolff (Ruby Rose), excitable stunt driver Tennyson Torch (Rory McCann), light on his feet electronic music sensation Nicks (Kris Wu) and bubbly computer whiz Becky Clearidge (Nina Dobrev). Thing is, once they’re all face-to-face with Xiang and his compatriots, mostly notably balletic wild woman Serena Unger (Deepika Padukone), it becomes apparent nothing is as it seems, the threats facing this new Triple-X team far more lethal and corrosive than any of them could have anticipated before their mission began.

It’s been fifteen years since xXx became a surprise box office success during the summer of 2002, and while the studio did attempt a follow-up, xXx: State of the Union, starring Ice Cube back in 2005, without Diesel it was almost as if the franchise was over with before it even had a chance to begin. But, taking a cue from his Fast and Furious success, the actor has found a way to reinvent the brand, xXx: Return of Xander Cage a multiethnic action extravaganza that’s more about the team than it is about any one hero. As such, even with a January release date there’s so much energy driving this sequel there’s a great chance it could do boffo business with audiences, the action set pieces at the center of all this craziness almost worth the price of admission all on their own.

Taking over the reins for original director Rob Cohen, Disturbia and Eagle Eye veteran David Caruso brings a sense of enthusiastic silliness to the film that’s oddly charming. He treats Xander’s return as if it’s a 107-minute Looney Tunes cartoon, filling the screen with one obnoxious set piece after another, almost as if he’s treating F. Scott Frazier’s (The Numbers Station) suitably absurd script more as a vague template than an actual instruction sheet he and his team of cinematic technicians are supposed to follow. The insanity of it all comes perilously close to being obnoxious, the fact Caruso manages to keep it from being as superhuman an achievement as any of the crazy stunts showcased inside the film itself.

The plot is both overly complicated and idiotically simple. The basic thrust is the MacGuffin driving these two dueling teams of extreme sports and martial arts enthusiasts is actually totally unimportant as far as the great overarching narrative are concerned, all of it just an excuse for Diesel, Yen, Thai superstar Tony Jaa and the remainder of the actors to strut their collective stuff. It’s stupid, but purposefully so, and for those willing to check their brains at the door and just let the adrenalized silliness work its magic there’s honestly plenty to enjoy.

Much like he did in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Yen steals the show. He’s a charismatic demon, a wizard of martial arts mayhem whose magnetism is undeniable and charm leaps off the screen. Honestly, it’s hard not to walk out of the film wishing the movie had all been about him and no one else, and even though Caruso sometimes over edits the sequences featuring him it’s a testament to the Ip Man and Iron Monkey superstar’s talents that he’s as continually as amazing as he always proves to be. No one else comes close to equaling him, and I have to give Diesel props for allowing Yen to become the focal point whenever his character is up on the screen.

Not that the titular star isn’t at his best. Honestly? Diesel appears to be having a laidback blast coming back to the character of Xander Cage, and it feels like it has been ages since he’s been this easygoing and appealing. The fun he appears to be having actually rubs off on the viewer, and although I’m no admirer of the first film I was reminded why so many of us were fans of the actor back in the days of the first xXx and the original The Fast and the Furious.

PHOTO: Paramount Pictures

Caruso could have used Jaa better, and for the life of me I have no idea the reasons for Wu’s character for being in the movie is other than he has an ability to get large scantily crowds of young people to dance like there’s no tomorrow. As stated, none of this makes a lick of sense, Frazier’s script remarkably dimwitted, and while I applaud how many strong, intelligent women there are here it’s not like the film is so progressive it still can’t revel in an extended sequence where Xander proves his bedroom prowess in about as sexist a manner as possible.

Not that I can’t say I didn’t have a surprisingly decent time watching xXx: Return of Xander Cage. As dumb as it all might be, that doesn’t make the majority of it any less entertaining. Caruso stages one terrific action set piece after another, and while some work decidedly better than others (a chase sequence involving dirt bikes riding the waves like gas-powered surfboards is frankly laughable, while on the flipside a climactic bout on a plummeting cargo plane showcasing Yen in all his balletic glory is downright outstanding), when added to together all of them get the job done in a highly satisfying way. As long-in-coming sequels go, this one is far better than it has any right to be, and if it ends up being a hit I highly doubt we’ll end up waiting another 15 years to see Xander Cage come back for another extreme adventure.

– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle

Film Rating: 2½ (out of 4)