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Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – xXx Return of Xander Cage

xxx-return-of-xander-cageMy notes on the daffy xXx Return of Xander Cage

 

Grumpy Harrison Ford has to be strong-armed into picking up all his old franchises, but Vin Diesel – though he sat out xXx The Next Level – clearly won’t let go of any of them.  As the Fast and the Furious series, which took a dip while Diesel’s character was dead-ish, ascended to its current stature as surprisingly resilient/reliable hokum, Diesel worked hard to keep the Riddick saga from flatlining … and has now hopped back aboard the xXx train, which is retooled in this entertainingly demented entry into a cross between the campiest of the Bonds and the silliest of the Fast/Furiouses. It says something about multiculturalism that the highest billed white heterosexual character (Rory McCann as stunt driver ‘Tennyson Torch’) comes eighth in the cast list … and Diesel generously cedes screen time to a range of bright spark performers, with a Bollywood leading lady (Deepika Padukone), Asian martial arts stars (Donnie Yen, Tony Jaa) and contrasting Australian attention-grabbers (Tony Collette as a CIA ice queen, Ruby Rose as a lesbian eco-warrior sniper), plus not-really-there Kris Wu as a team-member whose special skill is DJing (if I were in this krewe, I’d want the kickboxer or the hit lady backing me up – just sayin’).  Also in the mix is Nina Dobrev as an xXx fangirl techie who might be Hollywood’s appropriation of Osgood from Doctor Who.

 

The plot involves one of those control-every-device-and-the-internet doodads that every spy thriller of the last five years has featured – and, at one point, ace spy/not-so-hot-on-tech Xander thinks he’s destroys the mcguffin by breaking the plastic casing and leaves the vital components around the parking lot just in case any 13-year-old with a soldering iron wants to crash satellites onto his school.  Samuel L. Jackson, whose turn in the xXx films was a warm-up for his Nick Fury, pops up in the opening scene, which ends with a big explosion – and a few digs at his Marvel movies.  This means Xander, who has happily been stealing cable hook-ups in the Dominican Republic since his supposed death in The Next Level, comes out of retirement and is set against Yen’s gang of younger, sleeker, more extremer xXx types, recruiting his own bunch of madmen to back him up when he mouths off to the NSA and without embarrassment reuses Roger Moore punchlines which were cringemaking in the ‘70s and haven’t improved since (‘the things I do for my country’).  He even copies some of Moore’s stuntman’s stunts.  It’s more important that Xander get back together with his shaggy coat and flash car than any of the other characters, but there’s a hoot of a visit to London where Hermione Corfield plays a super-hacker with a hotbody harem and an ankle-tag before it’s off to the Philippines for surfing and a wild shoot-out party involving pass-the-parcel with live hand grenades.

 

Rather than fight each other, the stars compete with cool moves and stunts – when it’s established that the renegades are former xXx agents, it’s hard not to feel that we’ve been cheated out of standalone xXx films starring Yen, Padukone or Jaa rather than waiting all these years for barrel-chested Diesel to get back in gear.  At least this embraces the ridiculousness of a secret agent who has the name of his covert agency tattooed on the back of his bald head – you wouldn’t find James Bond with MI5 written on his head, and he’s scarcely the lowest profile spy in the world – even if the xXx makes a splendid target that people shooting at Cage surprisingly don’t go for.  You want chases and fights in waves, freeways, buildings (including – yes – a deserted warehouse) and crashing planes (with 3D freefall).  There are snarky captions, a story that just goes round in a big circle, ugly tattoos by the acre, a scramble of political attitudes you’d go mad trying to parse, guest shots that pay off if you’ve actually invested in this once dead-in-the-water series and have been ‘waiting for someone to dial 9 since 2005’, probably well-out-of-fashion music and clothes choices and the promise of more sequels to come.  It’s about on the level of Moonraker – but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it enormously.  Please give Ruby Rose her own film now.  And replace Nick Fury with Toni Collette in the Marvel Universe.  Directed by D.J. Caruso, a specialist in solidly watchable tosh (Disturbia, Taking Lives, Eagle Eye) who is set to handle the not-exactly-promising GI Joe 3.

 

 

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