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Review: “xXx: Return of Xander Cage”

on January 23 | in MOVIE REVIEWS | by | with No Comments

Area Theaters/Directed by D.J. Caruso/Starring Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone and Toni Collette/Action/107 minutes/Rated PG-13

Summary:

Meet Dom Toretto’s tattooed twin brother Xander Cage (Vin Diesel), the X-gamer turned special operative resurfacing for “xXx” number three, a franchise that is taking a similar tack to the more popular “Fast & Furious” phenomenon. The appearance of Ice Cube, who took Diesel’s place in the second installment, “xXx: State of the Union”, suggests another merging of characters that previously had nothing in common other than Nick Fury’s twin Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson). Launching into action after a wink at Jackson’s Marvel alter-ego shows that the upcoming couple hours of  absurdity are not without a sly self-awareness, even though at times director D.J. Caruso is having a little too much fun for his own good. I’m a Diesel fan, though not a completest (as I avoided “The Last Witch Hunter” like the plague), but you couldn’t find a better actor to save the world on a skateboard. The opening  has the titular thrill-seeker jumping from a tower into the brushy hill fifty feet below at a 90 degree grade to 1484774104_cwgr_gjuiair7tsdirt ski  in order to deliver a vital package to someone within ten minutes. Not a bomb, nor a switch to a nuke, but a module that will allow the impoverished South American villagers to watch a soccer game. The cable conglomerates don’t need the money.

When he’s called on for real, suspected dead by the vague powers-that-be headed by Jane Marke (Toni Collette) after the original “xXx” but coerced out of hiding, there is indeed a device that can launch satellites from the sky with tactical precision called Pandora’s Box. Now we’re talking. The premise and it’s wrap-up are preposterous, as is the fairly useless team he wrangles of a partying DJ and a crash-test dummy played by “Game of Thrones” hound Rory McCann. With the exception of a deadly purple-haired assassin played by Aussie actress Ruby Rose, who will be in the upcoming “John Wick” sequel, this crew doesn’t offer squat.

But it’s not the destination, it’s the journey. Diesel does his thing, makes Special Ops guys look like fools, and talks and thinks like he was trained at Langley rather than the empty pool basins of SoCal. Donnie Yen, just off whooping ass in “Rogue One”, steals every scene he’s in, as does magnetic Deepika Padukone who emerges from about five potential beauties (including Nina Dobrev dressed up as a nerdy programmer) as the official love interest. Most of the action sequences are well-orchestrated and just plain entertaining, and usually always with a smile on Diesel’s face (unlike crankier twin Toretto). Yet some scenes are dull, derivative proof that the ripple from the early work of John Woo has yet to hit shore (you know, those shootouts that are as smoothly choreographed as an ice-skating   routine; in this case, the classic back-to-back ballet, outgunned characters picking bad guys off with a synchronized efficiency).

“Return of Xander Cage” is certainly not the last we’re going to see of Diesel in this character, but I think the next installment is going to need to be in space. Once you’ve conquered satellite missiles and mastered hand-to-hand combat in the zero gravity environment of a plummeting C-130, there’s just nowhere else to go.

Area Theaters

Added Author’s note: there’s a lot of ink on Diesel’s character, but there’s a particularly meaningful tribute on the back of his left calf.

—M. Parsons 2017

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