Review: xXx: THE RETURN OF XANDER CAGE Knows Why You're Here, And You're Okay With That

Paramount
Going into xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage, I honestly thought this was going to be another douchebag action movie just like both its predecessors from Rob Cohen and Lee Tamahori. Sure, the fandom of having Tony Jaa and Donnie Yen notwithstanding, I've reached a pinnacle in my life where I've begun seeing past the veil of spectacle in most Hollywood action thrillers to be a little more speculative and critical than I've usually been. That said, I look at what D.J. Caruso brings to the table for this third installation and on its face, it's still as full of the usual mindless fun as the first two films, though gladly it's not as frustrating an experience - likely due in part to the fact that after fifteen years we already have a general idea about what we're in for, so that helps.

Yes, Vin Diesel is back in the title role as our forrest-skiing, skateboarding, motorcross flashkicking thrillseeker who sees almost everything The Man throws at him - or in this case, actress Toni Collette as the new suit in charge of the very program Cage was in. With actor Samuel L. Jackson's NSA Agent Agustus Gibbons presumed dead and a new threat on the horizon, Cage wastes little time cutting through formalities and assembling his own team to retrieve a piece of tech that can crash satelites onto specific targets like guided warheads. The challenge, however, will be to take on a team equally capable as Cage's, led by Xiang, played by the explosive Donnie Yen, who are after the same technology. With both teams butting heads and the impending obviousness of who the real villain is behind the curtains, it will be up to Cage and his team to try and outwit all obstacles in their way before its too late.

As a PG-13 affair packed with big screen action and spectacle, xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage is as predictable as you might expect, so don't go into this with a brain ready to peel back any layers of sorts of "intrigue" or "mystery". If you find yourself getting pulled in, however, it's totally fine though, as F. Scott Frazier's script proves to have just a little more heart and soul, contrived as one might feel it is if you're a little more cynical. Answering to late actor Michael Roof's NSA Agent Toby Shavers from the earlier movies is actress Nina Dobrev who plays the lesser-annoying, adorably sexy and meek weapons nerd, Becky "With The Safe Word" Clearage, and she was as delightful to watch everytime I saw her on screen as opposed to the "Jar Jar Binks equivalent" some people pegged her as.

Rory McCann plays a member of Cage's team who calls himself "The Torch", a mildly paranoid stunt driver who always comes prepared with a mouthguard in case he needs to hit the case. He's the most cuckoo of the bunch. Orange Is The New Black series actress Ruby Rose takes to the screen as a Adele, a sharpshooter who can apparently shoot anything dead-on between two fingers, joining Asian import Kris Wu who plays "Nicks", a DJ whose hooded appearance and presence at the 1's and 2's helps set the atmosphere accordingly when Cage needs a distraction. Award-winning Indian film actress Deepika Padukone takes on the role Xiang's right hand woman and an equally-skilled member of his team as the limber, gun-toting Serena in her own Hollywood debut next to that of UFC Middleweight Champion Michael Bisping as "Talon" and "Hawk", played by Thai import, action star Tony Jaa in his second Hollywood movie since starring opposite Diesel in Furious Seven.

The rest of the main cast rounds itself out to a small list of actors playing themselves and I won't really get into all that as unimportant as it is - no offense to Neymar Jr. but I'm not a futbol fan so, whatevs. What I will get into here is the film's delivery in whole, and for that matter, I turn back to Diesel who clearly enjoys the role following the 2002 film, and from there I can really only guess why Diesel chose not to do the 2005 film. He clearly has his share of fun here, platforming a purely escapist narrative with a screen persona that is all about living a fantasy life, living and loving freely, chasing and cheating death, kicking all the asses, getting all the girls and looking "dope" doing it. And, what's more here is the level of caring and sympathy we can finally allow ourselves to feel past all of the slightly more trite moments and while the film does take itself seriously in that regard from time, again, if you go into this film knowing its legacy, you know basically that you don't have to do much. Instead, let Xander take the wheel - provided there is one - and enjoy the ride.

Most of the action makes it all worthwhile. Laughable are moments where our two alpha males - Cage and Xiang, somehow manage to survive nearly painting a busy street red amid on-coming traffic after chasing and fighting each other on trucks. All of the actors here get a little bit of screen time with the action while clearly the likes of Bisping, Jaa and Yen are pivotal components for the film's essential fight scenery, though it's Yen who conquers the screen and furthers his case for a place in Hollywood, and rightfully so after a robust career in Hong Kong cinema leading up to a few nods in Hollywood with roles that had him dying in the second act in some way or another. Yes, it was high time that Yen got the respect he's so earned; his action scenes are some of the best to watch and almost flawless at that, and he really hams it up on screen for the loyal Yen ilk. With any luck though, that will be just the step in the right direction for Yen in a hopeful, and decent lead role in a Hollywood action movie as often as its been talked about since his heyday on Highlander: Endgame and Blade 2. Jaa's performance, supporting in nature next to Yen Bisping and Padukone, brings its own fun and energetic style and if you follow him on Facebook, chances are you already know what that entails.

On the first of our two alpha females, Padukone brings levity and comfort in her performance opposite Diesel as the tough-as-nails Serena. The acrobatics she springs into in her first few seconds on screen is as excessive and mildly stupid as it is albeit an obvious and otherwise respectable heads-up from Caruso in his own shameless way of saying "Yes...in fact. It's going there. We are going there and we are taking you with us. And you will not dislike it!". She and Diesel have great chemistry both on screen AND off, and it invites worthwhile hope that we'll see more of her in film apart from her flourished career in Indian cinema. Rose, the other alpha female, brings equal charm in a lesser-romanticized supporting character you can already appreciate within the first minute of watching her on film as Adele. She's a smartass with some kinky appeal to her tomboyish guise and its sexy eye candy to catch in at least one moment where she secures her position in a tree to cover Cage's back.

Ice Cube's brief return as Darius Stone, bookended by a shared moment of screentime with Diesel's Cage following a diminutive fourth-wall nod to Cube's 11-year "waiting period". The Americanos lend this film a nice little sign off with the title track, In My Foreign, though the song itself is a work of customary creative douchebaggery for fans who, for reasons beyond me, prefer their music autotuned to the point of steroids (and don't even get me started on the music video, opinions notwithstanding).

Conclusively, and for good measure, some (if not most) of the film's shortcomings in all its aformentioned aspects (*cough*Lil Yachty*cough*) are pretty forgiveable. I bought my ticket for this film in 3D expecting to feel like utter shit when it ended, and instead, I was dancing in my seat for a little while and even on my way out. Caruso's effort makes no apologies here for the sake of providing some escapist excitement with great triple cheeseburger action with a side of fries, coupled with Asian martial arts starpower and a bankable action star EGOT to boot, and provided you don't get your hopes up too high, you'll simply have a ball. Apart from this, it's also a good reason to avoid Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. At the very least I'll give it a VoD run, but Phat Samurai Guy's latest video confirmed a great deal of my fears his latest video, and so I invite you all to check it out... and then go see xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage in 3D while you can.

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