REVIEW: XXX: The Return of Xander Cage (2017)

“Pandora’s Box”, a technological device capable of seizing control of satellites and crashing them into the Earth, has been stolen. In an attempt to recover it, CIA agent Jane Marke (Toni Collette) enlists the presumed-dead former agent Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) to retrieve it.

XXX was a middling 2002 action film, one followed by a middling 2005 sequel. To an extent it beggars belief that Revolution Studios would then produce a third installment 12 years after the last, but more so it defies understanding that despite a heavyweight genre cast The Return of Xander Cage is the worst of the lot. It is not simply bad, it is so egregiously awful one is forced to assume it is that way by deliberate design. It is scripted as if by permanently horny 14 year-old boys, and shockingly paced and plotted. It seems to have no clear purpose but to reassure the kids that Vin Diesel, who was 50 when this sequel was released, is still cool. He’s not. With this film he’s as good as Roger Moore in A View to a Kill. He is an unwitting self-parody. He’s someone’s father gate-crashing their child’s party, insisting they’re ‘just one of the guys’.

And I say this with a lot of respect for what Diesel has done over the years. He has carved out his own niche with franchises like Riddick and Fast & Furious, and in the latter he has developed Hollywood’s best ongoing action franchise with the world’s most diverse casts. You can see the temptation for him to re-visit that success with XXX, here re-envisaged as another diverse ensemble film. It is a remarkable strong ensemble too, including Donnie Yen, Tony Jaa, Toni Collette, Samuel L. Jackson, and Deepika Padukone. They are pretty much all wasted with a script that provides nonsensical dialogue, ridiculous stereotypes, and an odd paucity of action in the first half – particularly when the action is the film’s only real asset.

The action also reveals a problem I have with Hollywood’s occasional but growing penchant for casting Asian action stars as villains. They’re simply too good. These actors – Donnie Yen being a prime example – perform their own stunts and often hold strong talents in martial arts. Put them in an American environment, where actors rarely perform their own stunts, and they appear too superior a talent for the supposed heroes to match. When I watch Diesel and Yen go toe-to-toe, and Diesel holds his own, it breaks my suspension of disbelief. It’s not quite Mel Gibson and Danny Glover beating up Jet Li in Lethal Weapon 4, but it’s in that ball park. It is not enough to simply drag these actors in as window dressing to capture a foreign market; they need to be treated with respect. I suspect a much more successful move for a XXX sequel would be to put Donnie Yen in the lead role: he’s more charismatic than any other actor in the movie, and despite being six years older than Diesel he would actually pull the role off.

The rest of the cast varies from the lazy (Toni Collette, her eyes glazed over, quietly collecting a pay cheque) to the limited (Ruby Rose, better than in John Wick 2, worse than, well, name an actor) to the tragically wasted (Tony Jaa is an exceptional martial artist, not that you’d know it here).

You could potentially enjoy this film, particularly if you enjoy a Saturday night with alcohol watching ‘so bad it’s good’ nonsense. You could potentially watch something else; something with better action, better plots, and less half-naked women fawning over Vin Diesel. I recommend you start with films actually starring Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa. Whoever you are, this film is beneath you.

  1. I’m glad someone actually watched the whole thing. I turned it off after the ridiculous first sequence. Glad I was founded in my decision. Good review!

    Reply

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