Film Review – xXx: Return Of Xander Cage (2017)

Vin Diesel, he of the muscles and the vacant smile, has returned, cap in hand, to the XXX series apparently in much the same way as a dog returns to vomit. Perhaps out of curiosity, but more likely boredom and certainly not for any substantial nutritional value. Driven by a basic sense of instinct Diesel finds himself reapplying the temporary tattoos and sliding back into the combat trousers. Or maybe it was the money?

Skateboarding enthusiast Xander Cage is back as the new Darius Stone (who incidentally was the new Xander Cage) to thwart the plans of a group of international terrorists. In a move that appears to be prompted by the runaway success of the unfeasibly popular Fast & Furious movies, Cage is joined by a gaggle of sidesticks designed to give him somebody to work with and bounce off, and, you suspect, divert some of the tension away from Diesel’s rudimentary acting talents.

As we all know, Cage was pronounced dead earlier in the series but this third instalment takes a little time in resurrecting his character. We find that he has been keeping a low profile in Brazil where his particular set of skills allow him to ingratiate himself with the local population by pilfering broadcasts of satellite football. Coaxed out of retirement by Toni Collette’s CIA chief, Cage is charged with tracking down a weapon that can drag satellites out of orbit, thereby turning them into elementary bombs.

With a tone that seems to veer wildly between knowingly self-referential and po-faced naivety, it’s difficult to know how to react XXX: Return of Xander Cage. Knowing winks and glances abound with laughably over-the-top action, but there seem to be as many moments of sincere uselessness.

Collette spends all the movie munching her way through hot-buttered scenery, yet Ruby Rose seems barely able to muster a smirk as a supposedly wise-ass mercenary. Donnie Yen’s sinister terrorist is a high-octane hoot, but Diesel perpetually has the look of a man who has just uncovered a twenty dollar bill in his trousers he’d previously forgotten he had. It would be easy to dismiss this as rubbish, but the trouble is you’re never quite sure what kind of rubbish it is: honest action hokum that misfires wildly or smugly self-satisfied sarcasm that irks far more. But at least it has the odd moment of wild abandon and the supporting cast, Yen in particular, help to provide an agreeable focal point to the backdrop of insanely hot women, relentless EDM and dubious plotting.

| Chris Banks

Action, Thriller | USA, 2017 | 12A | Paramount Pictures | 19th January 2017 (UK) | Dir.D.J Caruso |Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Samuel L.Jackson, Toni Collette, Ruby Rose, Tony Jaa, Nina Dobrev

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