Based in Canton, Michigan, Nerd on Film is a film review site by Nathan Evans. His posts explore both current releases and whatever the hell films he feels like writing about that week.

xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE

xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE

Donnie Yen and Vin Diesel star in 'xXx: Return of Xander Cage'. 

Donnie Yen and Vin Diesel star in 'xXx: Return of Xander Cage'. 

By Nathan Evans

Before settling on ‘xXx: Return of Xander Cage’ for this week’s review, I debated between seeing it or seeing the much lauded historical drama ‘Hidden Figures’. The way I saw it, I could either see a supposed award’s worthy picture that would make me think about our recent history, and the contrasts between it and our current social and political climate, or I could watch Vin Diesel garble out some shitty one liners and blow stuff up. Well, it’d been a long, stressful week and to be honest, I just wanted to shut my brain down to its base vital functions and veg out in front of something, so I went with ‘xXx’— that was a mistake. ‘Return of Xander Cage’ has to be the single most aggressively stupid film I’ve seen in quite some time. The film’s star, Vin Diesel, seems intent on replicating the formula that’s made the also exceptionally dumb ‘Fast and Furious’ franchise a major hit without those pesky co-stars of his getting in the way, but the end result is a film that somehow ends up being even more nonsensical than those movies with only a fraction of the fun.

Freefalling: like Diesel's career before he returned to the 'Fast' franchise. 

Freefalling: like Diesel's career before he returned to the 'Fast' franchise. 

Normally this would be the part of the review where I give a soft synopsis on what the film’s actually about, but I find that task exceedingly difficult this time around. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure what I saw, but I’m gonna give it a shot anyways: It seems there’s a device that was constructed by the NSA that has the ability to tap into any satellite circumnavigating the Earth. In the wrong hands this device would enable an individual to interface with spy satellite’s for the purpose of accessing confidential information, shutting down power grids, or even knocking satellites from orbit to be used as missiles. Of course the last option is the only one we ever see because that’s the one that allows for the most x-treme (yes that spelling’s intentional) and crazy action sequences. 

Well, there’s a seeming band of terrorists led by a mysterious martial artist/ x-treme (again, spelling intentional) sports enthusiast named Xiang (international action star Donnie Yen) who get ahold of the device through an x-treme caper in the film’s opening moments that results in the murders of some of the United States’ top intelligence officials— X-TREME!!! Realizing she needs someone equally x-treme to combat this crazy band of rogues, the remaining intelligence official, Jane Marke (Toni Collette, slumming it for a paycheck), makes it her mission to track down legendary operative Xander Cage to use him against Xiang and his band of ne’er-do-wells. 

Why Ms. Collette, why are you in this movie? Oh, money, right... right...

Why Ms. Collette, why are you in this movie? Oh, money, right... right...

Of course, Cage is a bad boy thrill seeker that likes to make time for the ladies, so he doesn’t like playing by the rules and quickly butts heads with the team Marke’s set up for him. After jettisoning Marke’s team from his high-tech spy plane, Cage sets about collecting one of his own; an x-treme and volatile band that can go toe to toe with Xiang. They consist of a rugby player with no special skills (‘Game of Thrones’’ Rory McCann), a DJ with dead eyes and no special skills (Kris Wu), and a hunter of big game hunters named Adele Wolff (Ruby Rose) with a colorful shock of hair and a bad attitude. From there we’re off to the races as the opposing sides face off for the device across a backdrop of exotic locations that are utilized almost exclusively for partying, grinding,  motocross stunts, and criminal activity— a deadly and x-treme combination. 

Ruby Rose's Wolff is the only one of Xander's "team" that actually does anything worthwhile. 

Ruby Rose's Wolff is the only one of Xander's "team" that actually does anything worthwhile. 

If you couldn’t tell from the above synopsis, the film is basically a cartoon that serves as an excuse for Vin Diesel to stroke his own ego by looking cool in a gaudy fur coat and pretending to “bang chicks” (a phrase I feel the film would be comfortable using). There’s a fluid reality at play within the film that serves to undermine any sense of stakes or tension; a killing stroke for a film that’s already struggling for a plot. If characters like Cage and Xiang can get hit by a speeding car head on, smile, and continue doing x-treme stunts like nothing happened, what’s the point of paying attention? 

Making matters worse are the visually uninspired set pieces. They’re never bad, but they’re nothing special either. While there is some impressive stunt work at play, most of the action sequences are over in the blink of an eye; most egregiously the motorcycle water skiing scene that was featured heavily in the trailer lasts only for a few seconds against a terrible CGI backdrop. Donnie Yen proves the film’s sole exception; his fight choreography and jaw dropping stunt work provides the film with one or two truly thrilling moments.

Yen picks up the slack for Diesel. 

Yen picks up the slack for Diesel. 

But, like the rest of the cast, Yen doesn’t escape the awful dialogue that plagues the film from start to finish. Half of it takes itself too seriously and the other half just falls flat on its face. In the course of the film’s runtime you’ll be treated to such witty dialogue as: “This isn’t a party (dramatic pause) this is a race.” and “One grenade and three people. I like these odds.” “Two grenades and three people. I LOVE these odds.” Scintillating stuff. 

So, aside from Yen, an extended cameo from Samuel L. Jackson, and another surprise cameo that should appeal to the Mountain Dew sipping bros with popped collars that I’m assuming are the long time fans of this franchise, there’s really nothing else here that makes ‘xXx: Return of Xander Cage’ worthwhile. The movie’s more funny than fun, the action sequences fall flat, and the title character himself isn’t actually a character at all; he’s really just a collection of fake tattoos, terrible one liners, and obvious CGI/ body double assisted stunts. As a veteran of the ‘Fast and Furious’ franchise, Diesel really should know that if you’re going to go dumb you shouldn’t skimp on the action. When you do, you end up with a product more bland than x-treme. 

RATING: 1 OUT OF 5 

 

 

 

 

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