xXx: Return Of Xander Cage Review: Fast & Infuriatingly Stupid

Vin Diesel’s latest effort is big, dumb and full of guns – but something is missing

xXx: Return of Xander Cage
xXx Vin Diesel and Deepika Padukone in Return of Xander Cage. Image Picture Paramount

xXx: Return Of Xander Cage
107 minutes (15)
★★

Today’s cinemagoers are living in an era of blockbusters that ask audiences to completely disengage with any form of reality in favour of something completely daft but equally spectacular.

Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the more recent run of Fast & Furious films.

After four serious and largely forgettable entries in the series, 2011’s Fast Five signalled the start of a new era for the franchise full of out-of-this-world stunts and an A-Team inspired ensemble cast.

It did the trick, with the three subsequent films striking box office gold for Vin Diesel and Co thanks to some frankly ludicrous action set pieces that helped make up the shortfall for a series of movies that were largely lacking when it came to things like dialogue and cohesive plot.

Therefore, it makes sense that Vin Diesel would attempt to repeat the formula with xXx.

Most assumed the xXx franchise died a death with 2005 sequel xXx: The Next Level, a film Big Vin opted out of with Ice Cube drafted in in his place with disastrous results.

Vin Diesel as Xander Cage
Vin Diesel is back as Xander Cage

A box office bomb on release, few were crying out for the return of Xander Cage, but return he has with a movie that attempts to repeat everything that made the more recent Fast & Furious films so much fun but somehow falls short.

xXx: Return of Xander Cage has the feeling of a film made on Red Bull, full of slo-mo mid-air jumps, fast-paced editing and on-screen graphics that introduce people like characters in a video game.

Not that director DJ Caruso, who has a good track record when it comes to fast-paced thrillers, can be blamed for the film’s failings.

Right from the off the film feels like a mess of ideas, with the opening scene setting the standard as Samuel L. Jackson’s Agent Gibbons attempts to enlist Neymar as an agent for the xXx programme.

That’s Neymar the footballer and the answer is no, he can’t act. From there, the film takes us on what essentially amounts to a string of outlandish action sequences involving Vin Diesel’s Xander Cage, interspersed with scenes designed mostly to show how crazy/sexy/cool he is.

From skiing down the side of a mountain (no snow) to chasing a bad guy on a motorbike modified so it can literally drive on water, while Fast & Furious took the us to the very limits of believability with some jaw-dropping stunts, a combination of dodgy special effects and lazy writing means xXx’s endeavours are just a step too far.

That Vin Diesel serves as producer should be of no surprise. When he’s not involved in self-agrandising scenes placing his character at the centre of ridiculous roof top orgies, he’s busy offing bad guys with ease and cracking wise with a series of put downs that might have sounded good on paper but rarely work when delivered via his signature growl.

The supporting cast, meanwhile, falls into the category of criminally wasted or just plain bad.

Having seen the success of creating an ensemble in Fast & Furious, this film attempts to repeat the formula but fails abysmally with Xander’s rag-tag bunch of recruits likely to leave you pining for the days of Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris.

Game of Thrones’ Rory McCann is completely wasted as some kind of Howling Mad Murdock rip-off, while another of Xander’s more forgettable recruits appears to only be on hand when the scene calls for a DJ.

Then there’s Nina Dobrev stuck in in a role that’s the worst kind of female stereotype, getting hot under the collar at the sight of Xander’s “guns” in one scene before getting scared at the prospect of shooting a gun in another.

Ruby Rose, meanwhile, appears only too happy to crack predictable lesbian jokes and serve as a one-dimensional character/walking plot device when the script calls for her. Quite what possessed Toni Collette to appear, meanwhile, is anyone’s guess.

Donnie Yen and Deepika Padukone deserve some credit for solid work with limited screen time but the film is always flailing around thanks to a script and plot that feels like it’s been stolen from a Steven Seagal film. A recent one.

As the film progresses too, it feels like they begin to run out of ideas when it comes to the action, which begins to descend into a series of boring gun battles in disused warehouses.

Take out the flashy editing and loopy stunts and you have a film lacking charm or any compelling central characters – it’s difficult to envisage audiences warming to Xander Cage, given the smug, self-serving performance he puts on here.

A couple of late twists might keep you entertained but while this movie matches Fast & Furious for memorably silly stunts, it has none of the heart with Vin Diesel evidently forgetting the one thing that helped make those movies so great – something he’s always keen to mention in them too – his “family.”

2018’s The Fate Of the Furious cannot come soon enough.

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Loaded staff writer Jack Beresford has produced content for Lad Bible, Axonn Media and a variety of online sports and news media outlets.