By Aaron Rourke (Melbourne, Australia)

 

If the thought of a belated second sequel (re-introducing a long dormant action hero whom we never missed in the first place) which shamelessly strokes its star’s huge ego appeals to you, then XXX: The Return of Xander Cage is the must-see event of the year. This slapdash production is eye-poppingly incompetent, existing as nothing more than calculated global product.

After a relentlessly loud and obnoxious opening scene involving original XXX Program founder Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson), the title character (Diesel) is introduced during a prolonged, one-joke sequence that feels like an elaborate commercial for the 2020 FIFA World Cup. The ‘story’ is then quickly set up (or more appropriately thrown at us), with CIA operative Jane Marke (Toni Collette) informing Military and Intelligence officials about a special software device nicknamed Pandora’s Box, which can not only control any satellite floating around the planet but also use it as a potential weapon.

Marke barely gets through this opening exposition before an unknown group, led by Xiang (Donnie Yen), burst into the conference room and steal the powerful piece of hardware. Backing Xiang up are Serena (Deepika Padukone), Talon (Tony Jaa), and Hawk (Michael Bisping), highly trained combatants that are not to be trifled with.

Marke tracks Cage down in the Dominican Republic, where he is apparently living as an ESPN version of Robin Hood, convincing him to return to the agency and retrieve Pandora’s Box. Following the obligatory rejection of the government soldiers offered by Marke, our superhero puts together an eccentric team of his own. This MTV Wild Bunch includes Adele (Ruby Rose), a renowned sniper; Tennyson (Rory McCann), a lunatic driver who keeps count of the amount of crashes he’s caused; and Nicks (Kris Wu), who seems to possess no necessary skills other than being a cool DJ and party crasher. Also on hand is agency tech expert Becky Clearidge (Nina Dobrev), who obviously has never seen a man before wilting in the mere presence of the one-and-only Xander Cage. The mission can now officially begin.

XXX: The Return of Xander Cage is a film that spectacularly misses its target from the opening frame, unable to make any of the mud it hurtles at the proverbial wall to stick. After the Bond-meets-MTV attitude of the 2002 original, one can actually admire the approach to this unnecessary relaunch, throwing logic, story and character mechanics, and even the laws of gravity, out the window. However, this kind of crazy, no-holds-barred film-making still needs a sure hand and a clever touch, and this is where the production falls down miserably.

Screenwriter F. Scott Frazier haphazardly connects a series of comedic action set-pieces without any genuine wit or creativity, threaded by a plot element that feels borrowed from John Carpenter’s Escape From L.A. (1996). His characters are a dull collection of lazy one-liners, lacking any kind of individual stamp or identity.

Director D.J. Caruso, who showed promise with the 2002 crime thriller The Salton Sea, has since delivered one disappointment after another, crafting forgettable trash like Taking Lives, Two for the Money, Disturbia, Eagle Eye, I Am Number, and most recently The Disappointments Room. The wild, all-or-nothing tone sought after requires someone who isn’t afraid to push the envelope on every level, confidently and stylishly completing that high wire task, and Caruso is categorically not that person. Film-makers like Ronny Yu (The 51st State, Freddy vs Jason, Bride of Chucky), the duo of Neveldine-Taylor (Gamer, the mind-bendingly wacky Crank: High Voltage), and Che-Kirk Wong (the criminally under-appreciated comedy/actioner The Big Hit) all could have moulded this into something more entertaining. The ‘anything goes’ intent is totally lost within its safe PG-13 execution, resulting in a completely self-defeating exercise.

Because the target has been missed by such a wide margin, performances do suffer, and are all over the place. Diesel is Diesel, and the non-stop conversations about how amazing Cage is, accompanied by numerous scenes of women swooning around him (he even indulges in a multiplex-friendly orgy at one point), quickly becomes tiresome and repellent. There is a fine line between parody and self-flattery.

Bollywood star Padukone (Tamasha, and Piku, which co-stars Irrfan Khan, from Slumdog Millionaire and The Lunchbox fame) cannot rise above the juvenile material, and is stranded with some truly risible dialogue. Rose (Orange Is the New Black, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter) is merely there to blurt out a lame one-liner every few minutes or so; Wu (who was good in Mr. Six, and will be soon seen in Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets) is given nothing to do; Jaa (Ong Bak, SPL 2: A Time for Consequences), who is puzzlingly allowed little time to show off his martial arts skills, plays second-fiddle to his bleach-blonde hair; Dobrev (The Vampire Diaries) is enthusiastic but utterly unconvincing as the Cage-struck Becky; while Collette (Muriel’s Wedding, The Sixth Sense) is simply abysmal, exhibiting a visible disinterest in both her role and the mayhem going on around her.

The highlight proves to be Yen (Iron Monkey, SPL, Ip Man, Rogue One), who surprisingly looks like he is enjoying himself, projecting a relaxed, charismatic presence that star Diesel is sorely missing, and unlike Jaa, the Chinese superstar’s fighting abilities are on display to lively (if annoyingly over-edited) effect.

Production values are suitably garish and tacky, but a number of wirework and CGI effects are noticeably slipshod.

XXX: The Return of Xander Cage is more a shrewd business enterprise than an actual film, and merely plucking successful stars from various regions and entertainment industries to attract maximum dollars from all corners of the globe, is not enough to guarantee a memorable viewing experience. Thankfully moviegoers will have forgotten this extraordinary misfire by the time they have exited the cinema foyer.

Rating: 1/5

 

Best Quotes


 

Solider: Get on your knees! You have two seconds to comply! One, two…
[Cage quickly knocks out the soldiers]
Xander Cage: Three.


 

Xander Cage: [to Jane] If you wanted me back you could have just asked me.

 

 

Trailers:

 

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