xXx: Return of Xander Cage – Film Review

Return? Who’s Xander Cage? Is that a porno? These are all questions that I’ve actually heard in regards to xXx: Return of Xander Cage. If you’re uninitiated, xXx was a 2002 movie starring Vin Diesel as an extreme athlete who is recruited by the NSA to stop Russian terrorists, and it was every bit as ridiculous as it sounds. It did fairly well at the box office, so three years later, it was followed by a spin-off/sequel called xXx: State of the Union, which replaced Diesel with Ice Cube, and it flopped both critically and commercially. Now twelve years after the sequel (a full fifteen after the original), Columbia figured “Ah, what the hell?” and brought Diesel back for a more direct sequel to the first film. And it’s even more ridiculous than before.

Extreme athlete-turned spy Xander Cage (Diesel) is thought dead to the world, but is actually spending time skiing through jungles and stealing cable for townspeople in the Dominican Republic. After NSA Agent Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) is mysteriously killed, Cage is brought out of retirement to help by Agent Jane Marke (Toni Collette). It turns out that a device called Pandora’s Box, which allows access to everything, is in the hands of a group of criminals (featuring Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, and Tony Jaa), and Cage must put together a team (Ruby Rose, Kris Wu) to retrieve it.

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Before going into xXx, you should be aware of what kind of movie it is. This is the kind of movie where the characters speak exclusively in corny puns. This is the kind of movie where any mention of plot points will make you think “Oh yeah, that’s a thing”. This is the kind of movie where characters are introduced with needlessly informative title cards. This is the kind of movie where more than one person fakes their death. This is the kind of movie where people are hit by falling satellites, and a device exists that can easily cause this to happen. This is the kind of movie where Vin Diesel rides across the ocean on a motorcycle. This is the kind of movie where the main character follows an orgy with a one-liner. If any of this deters you, turn around now.

Still here? Don’t get too thrilled yet, because Return of Xander Cage still has quite a few problems. To start out with the pros, it thankfully understands its own ridiculousness. It doesn’t spend too much time on plot, and Pandora’s Box seems like a satirical stab at the concept of MacGuffins. The previously mentioned character intro cards are also actually pretty inspired and sometimes quite funny. And the set pieces, including all of the ridiculous extreme stunts, are mostly really entertaining. Vin Diesel knows what type of movie this is, and much like in his far more successful Fast & Furious franchise, he’s game for pretty much anything.

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But that’s pretty much all that it has going for it. First of all, a lot of the jokes are simply unforgivable. The scriptwriters seem to be trying so hard to be funny, and so much of the movie just isn’t. The full plot can be predicted by the time the main mission starts, so there’s nothing surprising or suspenseful. And the characters are pretty awful. Xander Cage is honestly pretty annoying, which is not a good trait for your main character. All he does is pull off some cool stunts, try to make witty one-liners, and brag about himself. Nina Dobrev’s Becky, a nerdy IT girl with a huge crush on Cage, is chuckle-worthy at times, but her shtick gets old very quickly. Everyone else either gives it their all but gives terrible performance, or is a good actor that you can tell is doing something beneath them.

The most unforgivable thing about this movie, though, is that so much strong action talent is gathered from around the world, and they don’t get to show off. Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa certainly come to the plate, but director DJ Caruso shoots the action scenes so poorly. He uses countless cuts and shaky cam, the two biggest sins of an action movie, and it’s just annoying to watch. Frankly, xXx: Return of Xander Cage just really isn’t worth it. It can be amusing at times, but if you want fun, mindless action, the Fast & Furious franchise pulls it off so much better and actually has a heart. This is the kind of movie you let stay on in the background or use as a distraction on a flight (which is exactly how I watched it).

Grade: 4.5/10

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