XXX: THE RETURN OF XANDER CAGE

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: D J Caruso

Stars: Vin Diesel, Toni Collette, Donnie Yen, Tony Jaa, Ruby Rose, Deepika Padukone, Rory McCann, Kris Wu, Nina Dobrev, Hermione Corfield, Tony Gonzalez, Michael Bisping, Al Sapienza, Samuel L Jackson, Ice Cube.

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Hoping to kick start another franchise to match his Fast & Furious series, Vin Diesel returns to the role of Xander Cage, a heavily tattooed daredevil extreme sports athlete turned elite secret agent for a covert program run by NSA operative Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L Jackson), fifteen years after he first played the character. A surly Ice Cube filled the void in 2005’s State Of The Union, but that film virtually killed off any interest in the XXX series.

What we get here is an over the top steroid driven, testosterone fuelled action romp filled with outrageous stunt work and action sequences. In other words, perfect escapism for the action junkie.

Apparently Cage has been living off the grid somewhere in South America for the past fifteen years after having been assumed dead. He nonetheless uses his skills to deliver pirated television coverage of a soccer match to a village of impoverished fishermen.

After Gibbons is killed in an explosion caused by a falling satellite, Cage is tracked down by CIA agent Jane Marke (Toni Collette, slumming it) and charged with tracking down a device known as Pandora’s Box, which apparently has the ability to take control of military satellites and send them plummeting to earth. The device was stolen in a daring raid led by Xiang (Hong Kong martial arts star Donnie Yen) Cage assembles his own team of rag tag adrenaline junkies to tackle this mission impossible. His team includes androgynous sharp shooter Adele Wolff (Ruby Rose, from Orange Is The New Black, etc); stunt driver Tennyson Torch (Game Of Thrones’ Rory MacCann), with a record of 198 crashes to his name; techno DJ Nicks (Chinese rapper and actor Kris Wu); and a ditzy gadgets specialist named Becky (Nina Dobrev), who has never used a gun in her life.

Cage’s team is pitted against a rival team of rogue former agents led by Xiang. His team consists of the sultry Serena Unger (Bollywood star Deepika Padukone, making her Hollywood debut), Talon (Thai martial arts star Tony Jaa, largely wasted here) and the fearsome muscle bound Hawk (UFC champion Michael Bisping). Cage and his team track Xiang down to his base on a remote island in the Philippines for a bout of fisticuffs before moving on to the next act in the unnecessarily convoluted plot. But eventually the two rival teams are forced to reluctantly team up to defeat a fairly bland villain and stop the threat posed by Pandora’s Box.

Written by F Scott Frazier (Autobahn, etc), XXX: The Return Of Xander Cage is certainly fast and furious and delivers a high body count, some ridiculously over the top action sequences, carefully choreographed fight sequences, and some breakneck chases featuring audacious stunt work. But much of the action is rendered quite messy and butchered by the frantic editing from Jim Page and Vince Fillipone, a fault common to much of today’s action movies. The highlight is a fist fight between Diesel and Yen in the middle of a freeway with cars crashing around them.

But the plot is still somewhat convoluted and overly complicated, and clichéd, demanding a healthy suspension of disbelief. However, this latest instalment in the franchise offers little new beyond some audacious stunt work, much of which was supposedly captured in camera rather than through the use of green screen and CGI. Much of the dialogue is clunky and clichéd, and little more than clever one-liners. But there is a self-referential quality to much of the film as well. The action is accompanied by a hip hop soundtrack that often drowns out the gunfire, and the sound design is ramped up to eleven here, delivering an all- out assault on the ear drums.

The director is D J Caruso (Disturbia, Eagle Eye, etc) and he handles the frantic action here well, maintaining a fast pace throughout that barely lets up. However, one suspects that it was Diesel calling the shots on the action as he is anxious to give himself another successful franchise.

Diesel brings his usual confident swagger to the role, and he delivers his one-liners with that deep masculine voice and a knowing wink to the audience. His philosophy seems to be “Kick some ass, get the girl, and try to look dope while doing it.” Cast against type, Collette seems to be in a completely different movie altogether with her take on Marke, and she brings a weary quality to her performance, but she seems to be enjoying herself. Yen follows up his great turn as a blind Jedi in the recent Rogue One and he brings a wonderful physicality to his role. The supporting cast is certainly diverse in an attempt to give the film broader international appeal. And Cube, who appeared in the unsuccessful sequel State Of The Union, contributes a brief cameo, which hints at possible future directions for the franchise.

XXX is undoubtedly messy, but it is also a lot of fun and the shot in the arm that the franchise possibly needed.

★★★

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