Vin Diesel returns as superspy/guy who can skate a bit Xander Cage in the third film of the xXx series. Alongside him is experienced, if not heralded, director D.J Caruso, a returning Samuel L. Jackson and a veritable tsunami of talented ensemble members that seem to have been cast in an attempt to mirror the successful expansion of the Furious films.
Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) is an extreme sports junkie and former spy roped back into the game by NSA agent Stone (Toni Collette) to stop a group of terrorists, led by Xiang (Donnie Yen), from using “Pandora’s Box”, a techno thingymabob, that can crash orbiting satellites to earth like missiles. Cage assembles a team of his own to fight back, Sniper Adele Wolff (Ruby Rose), Vehicle specialist Tennyson Torch (Rory McCann) and for some reason a DJ (Kris Wu).
The first xXx was an enjoyable action movie that was grounded in a form of pseudo-realism. Dumb fun, but balanced on the precipice of stupidity. xXx: Return of Xander Cage dials the stupid-o-meter up to 11 and beyond. The action is loud and meaningless, the characters all talk like they learned English from watching the worst of Sylvester Stallone’s action movies of the late 80’s (not just the one’s for whom English is a second language) and the story is almost purposely secondary to the action. It’s all about style, which is fine. If a film sets itself to just be a well put together action-film, there is a market and an appreciation for such titles, like John Wick. However, this movie is poorly directed, badly edited and tastelessly bland. When Donnie Yen, one of the greatest action stars of all time, gets into a fight with a group of bodyguards we don’t want to be straining our eyes every time the film decides to cut on every single hit. We want to soak in the choreography, the skill that is on display, but we can’t because the fight scenes feel like they we’re edited by a bottle of mountain dew. The script is laughably poor, and at times not so laughably poor when it tries to be funny. Vin Diesel is not a great comic actor, he has strengths and weaknesses like any performer, and his delivery of every, admittedly already unfunny, quip feels like it is dragged from his mouth by force, as if the screenwriter himself is reaching into Vin Diesel’s mouth and yanking the stupidity out of him. If I was a decade or so younger maybe I would be more forgiving towards this movie, but I’ve seen Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa perform feats of incredible physical performance in many better movies than this. I’ve seen Rory McCann light up the screen on Game of Thrones, the great range of talent Toni Collette has as a performer and even seen the best of Vin Diesel in movies like Find Me Guilty, Pitch Black and his vocal performance in The Iron Giant. Whereas now, much older and wiser (I hope), watching Vin Diesel flirt awkwardly with actress Hermione Corfield (26 years his junior) before being literally forced upon by around eight more scantily clad women half his age who are desperate to spend the night with him because he is just so irresistible feels like I’m watching the deranged fantasies of someone in the middle of a mid-life crisis.
Great action movies need great characters and conflict. The best Bond movies give him a great villain, a force to be reckoned with, he has to fight and scrap his way through, overcome and emerge victorious. Xander Cage never looks in danger, because he never is. It’s all smiles and looking good whilst your stunt double does most of the work in the action scenes, because the director can just film it all from bad angles and the editors can work around it later. There are a lot of great films out at the moment, and coming out in the near future, see them instead.
Dir: D.J Caruso
Scr: F. Scott Frazier
Cast: Vin Diesel, Samuel L. Jackson, Ruby Rose, Toni Collette, Tony Jaa, Rory McCann, Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, Nina Dobrev, Kris Wu, Hermione Corfeld
Prd: Joe Roth, Vin Diesel, Jeff Kirschenbaum, Samantha Vincent
DOP: Russell Carpenter
Music: Brian Tyler, Robert Lydecker
Runtime: 107 Minutes
xXx: Return of Xander Cage is out now in UK cinemas.