XXX: Return of Xander Cage

X Games James Bond is back. Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone and Academy Award nominee Toni Collette star in XXX: Return of Xander Cage.

XXX Return of Xander CageCast of Characters:
Xander Cage / Agent xXx – Vin Diesel
Xiang – Donnie Yen
Serena Unger – Deepika Padukone
Harvard “Nicks” Zhou – Kris Wu
Adele Wolff – Ruby Rose
Talon – Tony Jaa
Becky Clearidge – Nina Dobrev
Tennyson – Rory McCann
Agent Jane Marke – Toni Collette
Agent Augustus Gibbons – Samuel L. Jackson

Director – D. J. Caruso
Screenplay – F. Scott Frazier
Based on characters created by Rich Wilkes
Producer – Joe Roth, Jeff Kirschenbaum, Vin Diesel & Samantha Vincent
Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of gunplay and violent action, and for sexual material and language

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Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) is back, and despite living in self-imposed exile, he’s still doing what he can to save the world one illegal cable hookup for impoverished children at a time.

Sure, they’ll starve to death later on, but at least they’ll be able to enjoy the excitement of a riveting soccer game in their final moments.

Xander’s peacefully idyllic life, however, is put on hold, when he is discovered, without much difficulty, by Agent Jane Marke (Toni Collette), who informs him that a highly skilled team of four led by Xiang (Donnie Yen) has infiltrated the CIA and stolen the film’s McGuffin – I mean, Pandora’s Box, a device that is capable of controlling satellites and turning them into warheads or something… whatever, basically one push of a button and the world is fucked.

So, as you’d expect, it’s up to Xander to save the day, while also banging a bunch of whores and looking dope doing ridiculously impossible stunts.

XXX: Return of Xander Cage is Phase III of Vin Diesel’s return to past franchises following a string of standalone projects that failed to generate money or critical praise (the one exception being the Sindey Lumet directed Find Me Guilty, which may have not made money, but it still boasts Diesel’s finest performance to date). First came his reunion with the Fast and Furious series, then came Riddick, and now we have him back as everyone’s favorite adrenaline junkie secret agent Xander Cage.

Those hoping for The Pacifier 2 or Babylon A.D. Chapter II: Fuck It… Why Not?, don’t hold your breath.

Returning to the Fast and Furious franchise was a smart move for Diesel. Not that the past four films were stellar landmarks of the action genre or anything – far from it – but the fifth, sixth and seventh entries were moderately entertaining, and more importantly, from the point of view of both Diesel and the studio writing out his paychecks, made a shit-ton of money. However, the newest addition to the newly formed XXX is far from any form of entertaining – unless we’re counting unintentional. Instead, it’s a sad, dull and sometimes hysterically bad reminder that at least he’s got those fast cars to fall back on.

Of course, this is one of those kinds of movies where I trash it and I’ll get angry responses like this…

“What were you expecting, Sophie’s Choice?”

“What were you expecting, The Shawshank Redemption?”

“What were you expecting, The Color Purple?”

“What were you expecting, Schindler’s List?”

No. No. No, and definitely not.

I get it. Not every movie has to be deep and meaningful, and I certainly don’t expect deep and meaningful from D. J. Caruso, the director who gave us last year’s far too aptly titled The Disappointments Room. Some can be made solely for entertainment purposes, even mindless entertainment. If you do a quick search on my site, you’ll find I’ve seen some highly favorable things about Anaconda (the one with David Hasselhoff… not so much). Hell, it wasn’t that long ago that I gave a fairly solid review to a film about a giant, puppy dog like squid that powers monster trucks with its body.

God help me.

Mindless entertainment or not, though, a level of competency is still needed, which is sorely lacking here. There’s never an excuse to just kick back and go, “Well, it’s not like we’re making 12 Years a Slave… so – eh – whatever.” In fact, not only is it always needed, it’s even more imperative for a film that’s not relying on story and performance to showcase its technical proficiency. I mean, who in the hell is actually seeing this ’cause this Pandora’s Box device thing is riveting storytelling on par with Inception? Please, that object is so irrelevant to the overall story, they could’ve changed it to a McRib sandwich and no one would tell the difference.

It’s not that this is on a technical level of Birdemic. Russell Carpenter’s cinematography provides the film with a nice polished sheen that really pops, but given the budget that was pumped into this film, you’d expect something a little better than green screen effects that are so poorly rendered, the outlines around the actors should get their own film credit. Even the practical efforts manage to take a day off as Vin Diesel’s stunt double is so obviously not Vin Diesel during the introductory action setpiece, they might as well have had Jonah Hill serving as his stand-in.

And that there’s the big, big problem with this movie. No one in their right mind is going to see this for an emotionally uplifting narrative or a complex labyrinth of a story or powerhouse performances. You go to see a movie like this for the action and entertainment. Sure, to Caruso’s credit, he has lightened up the franchise this time around, following the first film’s attempt to be some sort of serious stab at a cross between James Bond and adrenaline junkies and that abysmal train wreck that was the sequel, XXX: State of the Union. However, the lightness in tone isn’t an excuse for lightness in effort. When the film isn’t throwing random scenes that bear absolutely no weight on the plot such as when Xander bangs a bunch of sluts ’cause – uh – well, I guess he can, it’s frustrating you with its lack of well-crafted action sequences.

Vin Diesel is a likable actor and Find Me Guilty is proof that he’s capable of delivering a good performance. Did I need a performance as strong as that one here? No, but it would’ve been nice to get a little something more than the auto-pilot he’s coasting on from beginning to end. Think about that for a second. What does it say about a film when even the man who’s made a career grunting and groaning about family in a seven film action franchise acts like he’d rather be anywhere else? Now, if it’s a good show you’re looking for, look no further than Toni Collette. No, her performance isn’t great; in fact, it’s quite horrible. The good show comes from watching her sneer and snivel and spout off all her lines as if she couldn’t be any more pissed off at her agent.

The rest of the supporting cast fares just the same. Nina Dobrev has secured a spot as one of the most irritating performances you’ll see onscreen in 2017. All her character does is pretty much beg Vin Diesel to ravage her silly. She’s even got safe words and everything. Don’t worry, though, ladies. She’s a strong and independent woman… ’cause she wears glasses. Donnie Yen, who turned in a great supporting performance in last year’s Rogue One, and Tony Jaa are both excellent martial artists, yet their talents are unfortunately wasted away in a flurry of headache inducing quick cuts that make it impossible to enjoy what they’re capable of doing onscreen. Yen does get a showcase moment during a third-act fight that takes place on an airplane, but notice that I said third-act.

Yep… Too little. Too late.

Laughably moronic and, more so, void of any action capable of generating a pulse, let alone a genuinely excitable thrill, XXX: Return of Xander Cage tries and fails to revive Diesel’s action franchise, a franchise that’s been dead for over a decade and for good reason. Sure, I hear ya. It’s not supposed to be Schindler’s List. No duh. But even by mindless popcorn entertainment standards, this still misses the mark by a mile.

I give XXX: Return of Xander Cage a D (★).

REVIEWS COMING LATER NEXT WEEK…

1/23/17        What the Hell Were They Thinking?!
1/24/17        Benjamin’s Stash
1/25/17        2017 Oscar Predictions
1/27/17        A Dog’s Purpose
1/27/17        Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

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