“XXX: The Return of Xander Cage” is a half thought-out exercise

Image result for xxx return of xander cage poster“XXX: The Return of Xander Cage”

Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) is relaxing comfortably in the Dominican Republic.  A friend of those less fortunate and with a beautiful woman in his bed, what could possibly get him to leave?  “Pandora’s Box,” a device that can control any satellite in the atmosphere, is being used to crash them into heavily populated areas, leaving carnage in their place.  Cage is recruited by CIA Agent Jane Marke (Collette) to get it back.  Cage will only agree on one condition: He does it *his* way, with *his* team.

Let’s just get this out there: XXX: The Return of Xander Cage has a ridiculous premise, and the movie knows this.  Each character has a varying degree of comedic relief to them.  Cage, for instance, has to be more on the serious side since he’s the one who has to save the world.  That doesn’t mean Cage can’t have quite a few one liners and performs some absurd stunts as he navigates the dark underbelly of this world.  Adele Wolf (Ruby Rose) is given one of the funniest introductions you’ll see on screen and does some weird stunts herself.

Those are two examples of the few successful characters we are introduced to.  For instance, a third member of the crew is disc jockey Harvard Zhou (Kris Wu), relegated to one action of any interest where he hijacks a dance party in the Philippines.  I’m a proponent of diversity in motion pictures but to be diverse is one thing, to allow minorities to be characters in a movie is another.  When your major Asian character is less interesting and impactful to the plot than a two-scene cameo by an international soccer superstar, you need to go back to the writers’ room.  The other incredibly frustrating character is the driver Tennyson (McCann), who’s every line, movement and facial expression is pure comic relief.  That isn’t necessarily a bad thing but when his material is almost unilaterally unfunny AND it’s combined with a Scottish accent, it’s almost unwatchable.  I understand that everyone needs a paycheck and actors love working, but why in the world would Toni Collette sign on for this?  It is a completely thankless role full of ridiculous lines that need to be said with a straight face.  Is she good at it?  Yes, but that still doesn’t make the character good.  Other mixed bag characters include the “geeking out” tech specialist Becky (Dobrev) and future football Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez as a Special Forces operative.

The action scenes have some competency about them.  D.J. Caruso (Disturbia, Eagle Eye) is not just a director for hire, he has talent.  Give him material and he can do something with it.  The F. Scott Frazier screenplay isn’t Mad Max: Fury Road by any stretch of the imagination but it does have scenes to show off.  And with martial arts talents Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa on screen for the first time, this should become an action masterpiece.  Unfortunately, Russell Carpenter’s cinematography and hand-to-hand combat do not meld together.  To fully appreciate martial arts, you need to be able to see as much as possible.  Unfortunately, most scenes with those two look like a bunch of pulled punches with bodies and cameras flying all over the place at a dizzying pace.  Over the 100 minutes, the movie just runs out of gas.  The humor fades, the plot gets stretched to the limit and the action just becomes a generic empty warehouse set piece.

In the end, XXX is a half thought-out exercise.  Sure, everyone involved has a great time jumping around and throwing out minor wit, but some coherence goes a long way.  There is a feeling of “so bad it’s good” simmering here but when you spend $85 million on a movie, shouldn’t you strive for something better?

1 out of 5


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