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xXx: Return of Xander Cage – Movie Review

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xXx: Return of Xander Cage – Movie Review

Directed by D. J. Caruso
Starring Vin Diesel, Donny Yen, Deepika Padukone, Toni Collette
Review by David Turpin

If xXx (2002) left a Vin Diesel-shaped hole in your heart that 2005’s Ice Cube-led xXx 2: The Next Level couldn’t quite fill, worry not. The most bodacious dad-bod on muscle beach is back to defend our way of life again in the belated, belaboured and often bewildering xXx: Return of Xander Cage.

This time, our hero (Diesel) is pressed into service by stern agent Jane Marke (Toni Collette), who needs his help to locate a flimsy plastic whatsit called “Pandora’s Box” that does something nefarious with satellites.  Importing a trick from Diesel’s concurrent Fast and Furious franchise, this instalment sees him amass a globe-spanning team of sidekicks, including Indian model/actress Deepika Padukone, Hong Kong action star Donnie Yen, Canadian-Chinese actor/singer Kris Wu, Thai martial arts star Tony Jaa, and Australian Orange is the New Black star Ruby Rose.  Even Brazilian footballer Neymar shows up, apparently playing himself.  This pot pourri of saleable properties makes for a fascinating case study in Hollywood’s appeal to new global demographics – but, it must be said, they don’t exactly congeal into a sparkling ensemble.

The film is furiously cut, and borrows an extensive use of on-screen graphics from last summer’s migraine-inducing Suicide Squad.  The action, however, is surprisingly meek – at least until the closing stages.  Director D. J. Caruso seems to be operating on a rather straitened budget, with most of the set-pieces taking place in thrifty locations like scrap-yards and empty warehouses.  One shot, in which Padukone and Rose pose dramatically back-to-back with firearms while being vastly outnumbered by precisely three extras is oddly touching in its insufficiency.

And yet.  While there’s no doubt xXx: Return of Xander Cage is a very bad film, it’s not really such a bad time.  For all the side-dishes, Diesel himself remains the main course, and whether one finds him a hoot or a headache will probably determine the palatability of everything else.  There’s something weirdly amusing about his drawling, yet oddly fey, cod-machismo – a singular boneheaded charm that reaches its apotheosis when he rides a motorbike through a crashing wave, his bald pate breaching the water’s surface in charmingly vainglorious fashion.  Watching the 49-year-old skateboard down a mountain while gamely holding in his paunch exerts a fascination beyond criticism.  By the end it scarcely matters whether we’re laughing at him or with him.

One person who’s certainly in on the joke is Toni Collette.  Surrounded by these dervishes of bro-culture athleticism, she cuts through the clouds of Lynx body spray to make a pretty strong case for why camp acting should be recognised as an Olympic sport.  Praise be for that.

 

 

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Categories: Header, Movie Review, Movies

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