“xXx: Return of Xander Cage” Review

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xXx: Return of Xander Cage Review

Repeat after me: xXx: Return of Xander Cage is a good film. No, I mean a properly good film. Like the kind movies I thought I’d stubbornly outgrown, it arrives as a pulsing action opera with lyrics penned in the dudebro vernacular. It’s fast food with nourishing flavor, if not outright nourishment.

“Look,” spoke my inner voice, placed somewhere between trepidation and heedlessness, “It’s the third installment of the xXx franchise. What can you honestly expect?” But then the lights went down; the movie began, and… what’s this? Snappy dialog? Vibrant art direction? These are triumphs viewers should expect but rarely ever receive from mainstream entertainment. D.J. Caruso, a director with talent belying his B-tier pedigree (Disturbia, Eagle Eye, I Am Number Four), understands that working with the less-than-artful material is a sorry excuse for leaving art at the door. He assembles every piece of bombast and banter with the craft and workman-like dedication of a veteran grease monkey— if a job is to be done, it’s to be done well or never at all.

Should I even bother synopsizing? The plot is almost deliberately unspectacular, drawing from the same playbooks as Bond, Bourne, and Mission: Impossible: same sh*t, different day. Anything more complex would be a distraction. The point is that after being presumed dead in 2005’s xXx: State of the Union, Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) is back. Only this time, we get to see the greater scope of the xXx program, all commanded by a shamelessly committed Toni Colette. Her dialog is perhaps the most overcooked, but she delivers it all with an integrity that sells.  

Keeping the action grounded is a cast of characters who fulfill their stock roles with shamelessness and genuine personality— you’ve seen these people in other movies, but rarely radiating this much enthusiasm.

The film has its casting director to thank. Vin Diesel, ever the action star, possesses a rare charisma the absence of which would have sunk the film. We forget that beneath his tank-like physique is a human of genuine soul and intelligence, and these qualities shine through even his silliest roles. He proves here why it was that Steven Spielberg sought to cast him in Saving Private Ryan nearly twenty years ago.

Of the newcomers that include Donnie Yen, there are two that dwarf the rest: Amber Rose and Nina Dobrev. Rose, a model known for her transgression of gender norms, is that rare presence born for the movies. She turns Adele, into something more textured and full-blooded than a humorless action heroine. But it’s the presence of Nina Dobrev that proves the most refreshing. She manages to be both appealingly sexy and lovably goofy without succumbing to the on-screen pitfalls of both.

Make no mistake: the movie is dumb. I challenge even the most pure-hearted moviegoer to dispute this. The question, therefore, is of how tuned-in it is to its level of intelligence. It features not one but two instances of a dirt bike’s real wheel being used as a heel to kick someone in the face. There’s also a scene in which Xander Cage takes out a ridiculous slew of agents with a machine gun in one hand and another hand free for checking his watch partway through. I was astonished to find myself floored rather than baffled.

My belief was nearly shattered by a set piece that featured Vin Diesel on a dirt bike in hot pursuit. Except the chase occurred not on a jungle road but an ocean wave. I thought it wise to swallow my better taste, chocking it up the absurdity to the magic (?) of moviemaking. But when I returned home and pulled up Google to verify if this was, in fact, possible, I discovered a YouTube video that photographed the very same stunt in real time, and precisely as displayed. I’m dumbfounded. Reality truly is stranger than fiction, even when the fiction is called xXx.

The script features frequent talk of what it means to be a patriot in the Internet age, and unlike so many thrills-first pictures, the audience is along for the debate. I recall a scene in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra in which Damon Waynes and Rachel Nichols talk about whether or not love can be scientifically proven, and every eye in the house proceeded to roll marble-like. Not here. Whenever the film decided to slow down and consider its gear-headed morality, I figured it had earned it. It plays with these scenes as if playing in the familiar action-movie toy box is a passion rather than an obligation.

Judging from the ending, we may be due for another xXx in a few years’ time. With Return of Xander Cage having so much heartfelt fun to flaunt, I was shown enough to leave the theater hoping the next follow-up was closer than a decade away.

Now, someone find me a dirt bike.



Editor Rating
 
Total Score
7.0