Vin Diesel and Nina Dobrev in xXx: Return of Xander Cage (Photo: Paramount)

XXX: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE
**1/2 (out of four)
DIRECTED BY D.J. Caruso
STARS Vin Diesel, Toni Collette

Hardcore porn for action junkies, xXx: Return of Xander Cage should also get a rise out of more casual viewers burned out on Oscar bait and looking for a mindless time at the movies. It’s as ridiculous and over-the-top as the 2002 original that built on star Vin Diesel’s blip of short-lived superstardom, but it improves ever so slightly on its predecessor thanks to a more interesting roster of supporting characters. (I never saw the second film in the series, 2005’s roundly panned, Diesel-less xXx: State of the Union.)

Samuel L. Jackson is back as the federal agent who first introduced extreme-sports enthusiast Xander Cage (Diesel) to the world of international espionage, although this time, it’s another hard-nosed government operative (Toni Collette) who’s giving Cage his marching orders. The plot involves the attempts to retrieve a deadly object known as Pandora’s Box — a device that turns satellites into bombs — but never mind all that. xXx3 is basically an excuse to show cool people doing cool stunts, and on that level, it largely works. It’s also an excuse to show that the laws of science and logic don’t really matter, particularly in the sequence set inside a damaged airplane (given the absence of gravity inside the vessel, did the plane somehow end up in outer space?) or the bit in which a couple of characters surf the waves atop ski-equipped motorcycles.

Donnie Yen provides the martial arts mastery, Ruby Rose contributes the smirks, and The Vampire Diaries‘ Nina Dobrev donates some nerdy humor. As for Vin Diesel, he’s mainly there to support his own flailing career, which, the Fast & Furious flicks aside, has largely been on life support. Acting like it’s still 2002, Diesel’s Xander Cage allows countless hotties to hang all over his body and partakes in outlandish stunts that would give even James Bond pause. Speaking of 007, there’s even a scene that apes Casino Royale, with a shirtless Xander Cage sauntering out of the ocean. But as my wife muttered as she observed his flabby flesh, “Meh. He’s no Daniel Craig, that’s for sure.”

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