xXx: Return of Xander Cage
The Xander Zone returns, taking us all back to the era of exxxtreme
xXx: Return of Xander Cage (2017)
Directed by D.J .Caruso
Cast: Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Samuel L. Jacson, Nina Dobrev
Is there any point to criticizing a lunkheaded Vin Diesel action movie for being a lunkheaded Vin Diesel action movie? No, not really. Everyone buying a ticket knows exactly what they’re getting themselves into. And anyone not buying a ticket knows exactly what they’re avoiding. And yet, here we are, staring down the barrel of xXx: Return of Xander Cage with roughly 700 words left to go on the page. Sometimes, as Mr. Diesel knows all too well, you’ve just got to go out there and earn a paycheck—no matter how pointless and forgettable your efforts might be. So, you know, let’s get this over with. Or in the immortal words of Vin Diesel’s Xander Cage, “I’m coming in hot with a side of bacon!” ... No, that doesn’t really work. How about, “You’re in the Xander Zone!”? Definitely not. “I live for this shit!” ... Eh, good enough.
Average moviegoers can be forgiven for forgetting all about Vin Diesel’s other action movie franchise—the one that isn’t Fast & Furious. xXx came out in 2002 and featured the Bald One as an extreme sports athlete who gets recruited as an international super spy. Coming at the far tail and of the ’90s—when hyper-caffeinated sports drinks were all the rage, the X Games saturated ESPN and every other TV commercial hawked a product spelled (incorrectly) with between one and three Xs—xXx was an action movie series even more “exxxtreme” (if such a thing is possible) than the Fast & Furious films. By the time 2005’s xXx: State of the Union hit theaters, Diesel was tank-top-deep in the Fast & Furious films, and the lead role fell to Ice Cube who ... definitely appeared on some of the posters. Now—12 years after that forgettable flop—Diesel has returned to the fold, assuming the lead role again in xXx: Return of Xander Cage.
Where to begin? ... Well, it all starts with Samuel L. Jackson doing one of the laziest roles of his career. He shows up in the opening minutes as NSA agent Augustus Gibbons, attempting to recruit a Brazilian footballer as a government agent (makes total sense) when he’s seemingly squished by a falling satellite. In what amounts to a spoiler to only the dumbest audience members, Gibbons isn’t actually dead. This is an exact mirror of his role as Nick Fury in Captain America: The Winter Soldier—complete with death, funeral and last-minute resurrection.
Turns out this particular adventure all revolves around shady “alpha warrior” Xiang (Donnie Yen, who at least had Rogue One: A Star Wars Story). This bad dude has stolen something called “Pandora’s Box,” an unfathomable technological device that can make satellites crash at will. With nowhere else to turn, cold-blooded CIA agent Jane Marke (Toni Collette, slumming like nobody’s business) hunts down skateboarding super spy Xander Cage (Diesel), who’s hiding out in the Dominican Republic providing free satellite TV to impoverished Latin American kids. (No, really.) As you might expect, Cage recruits a rebellious, multicultural team of tattooed badasses (including Tony Gonzalez, Kris Wu, Rory McCann and Nina Dobrev) and goes looking for vengeance.
What follows is a lot of action. Like, a whole lot of action. There is skiing through jungles. There’s riding motorcycles across the ocean. There’s jumping out of airplanes without parachutes. Thai martial artist Tony Jaa shows up and does his thing. Russian soldiers shoot the hell out of stuff. Waaaay too many explosions to count. The basic laws of physics are repeatedly violated. There’s a surprise twist to our villain roster, meaning more than one double-cross. A “surprise” cameo by the exact person you’re thinking of comes toward the end. And then fake-dead Samuel L. Jackson shows up to explain everything that just happened and give us a little “stinger” for the next movie in the franchise.
Look, xXx: Return of Xander Cage delivers on exactly what it promises: big, stupid action. The purpose of the movie, neatly summarized by Mr. Jackson as “kick some ass, get the girl, and try to look dope while you’re doing it,” is so honest, unashamed and reductive as to render the entire enterprise damn-near critic-proof. It’s silly and numbing and repetitive and clichéd. But who really cares? At this time of year, surrounded by Oscar-nominated dramas, maybe this is the sort of mindless junk food certain people are craving. Like a Big Mac value meal. Or a handful of circus peanuts. Circus peanuts that explode. Frequently. And loudly. And for no logical reason.