Mark Reviews Movies

XXX: Return of Xander Cage


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: D.J. Caruso

Cast: Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, Kris Wu, Ruby Rose, Nina Dobrev, Tony Jaa, Rory McCann, Toni Collette, Samuel L. Jackson, Ice Cube

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for extended sequences of gunplay and violent action, and for sexual material and language)

Running Time: 1:47

Release Date: 1/20/17

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Review by Mark Dujsik | January 20, 2017

Director D.J. Caruso clearly knows that XXX: Return of Xander Cage is goofy, but it's not clear if he understands just how goofy the movie actually is. It's the kind of movie in which our hero is introduced in a sequence in which he climbs a tall communications tower, puts on some skis, and leaps off said tower, making sure to flip both middle fingers at some yelling cops as he passes them on the way down. He skis through a tropical forest, skidding up the sides of trees and over branches, before skateboarding down a winding road, offering a high-five to a passing motorist.

The point of this crazy stunt work, if it matters, is an elaborate scheme to pirate satellite TV to the poorest of the area. There are those who will take this sequence as it is, and there are those who will take it for what it is, while spending the entire time wondering how the hero didn't at least shatter his legs upon hitting the ground after falling from the tower.

The goal of a movie such as this, one supposes, is to appeal to both of these groups: Provide the wild, physics-and-logic-defying action but doing so while displaying level of self-awareness that is equal to the absurdity of that action. It's kind of like Newton's third law of motion. That's a metaphor, obviously. If this movie had any sense of basic physics, Xander Cage's (Vin Diesel) femurs would be wedged between his ribs after his first jump in the movie.

Cage returns from the dead in this new installment, which arrives 15 years after his last stunt-based spy adventure and 12 years after a sequel that introduced a new hero (There's a clever throwaway gag that the character has been waiting for a phone call to get back into the game). Of course, F. Scott Frazier's screenplay establishes that the character faked his death, but in a world where people can survive all sorts of nearly death-guaranteeing activities, one wonders if actual resurrection is really all that ridiculous.

The plot is, well, a plot. Cage comes back into the spy service after his NSA handler Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) is killed when a satellite falls on him. Someone has developed a tool/weapon called the Pandora's Box, which can make satellites fall from space. Cage's new handler is Jane Marke (Toni Collette, all but winking at the camera after spitting out every, awkward line), who wants the Pandora's Box retrieved so that the NSA can keep it safe.

One triple-X agent isn't enough this time. There are two competing teams of the NSA's extreme-sports spies. On one side are Cage, sniper and ribbon dancer Adele (Ruby Rose), car-crash enthusiast Tennyson (Rory McCann), and Nicks (Kris Wu), a DJ who has the power to distract people with his on-point music selection (The whole "extreme sports" thing has become quite fuzzy here). In possession of the Pandora's Box is the other side: martial artist Xiang (Donnie Yen), sharpshooter Serena (Deepika Padukone), and, because the screenplay has already run out of ideas, martial artist Talon (Tony Jaa).

There are a lot of characters here, but they don't matter. They're here at the service of those action sequences, which include plenty of shootouts, a few curious uses of vehicles (such as fighting people with a motorcycle that later turns into a water vehicle), and stunts that probably put Diesel's stunt double into overtime pay.

On a side note, it turns out that it's a terrible idea to cut between a performer of such obvious skill as Yen, as he clearly does his own fighting and stunts (His introductory action scene is a doozy), and someone who looks like Diesel—as long as the camera stays affixed to the back of the person's head. In other words, if we've already had one new hero in this series, why would anyone who's smart enough to cast Yen not be wise enough to consider that he could take over the reins here?

The movie is a messy affair, and its goofiness goes beyond the ludicrous action. At times, the screenplay sounds as if it has been translated from one language into English, before being translated into a third language and back to English again. One-liners don't make sense in the context of, well, anything on screen or, for that matter, in any context (Ice Cube appears and, apropos of nothing, almost immediately makes a rock-paper-scissors joke, and let's not get into the convoluted way that allows Cage to make a bowel movement joke after dispatching a bad guy).

Look, XXX: Return of Xander Cage is bad. Is it too much to ask that the filmmakers simply acknowledge and embrace how bad it is?

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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