xXx: THE RETURN OF XANDER CAGE
Author: JoAnne Hyde
Date: January 20, 2017

SYNOPSIS: The third explosive chapter of the blockbuster franchise that redefined the spy thriller finds extreme athlete turned government operative Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) coming out of self-imposed exile and on a collision course with deadly alpha warrior Xiang and his team in a race to recover a sinister and seemingly unstoppable weapon known as Pandora's Box. Recruiting an all-new group of thrill-seeking cohorts, Xander finds himself enmeshed in a deadly conspiracy that points to collusion at the highest levels of world governments.

If you are male, ages 13-20ish, and wear your baseball cap backwards, you’re going to love xXx: The Return of Xander Cage. Otherwise, you’ll probably need to be an extreme action film genre fan to appreciate it. If you’re looking for sophistication and a good script, you might want to look elsewhere.

The two previous films in this franchise screened in 2002 and 2005, so it’s been awhile. Vin Diesel (Xander Cage) declined to appear in the 2005 film, so for the current film, his character had to be resurrected from the dead. The explanation? Xander Cage has been living off-the-grid in the Dominican Republic for the interim. Samuel L. Jackson returns as Xander’s handler, Augustus Gibbons with Brazilian soccer star Neymar in tow playing a new recruit for the X team.

Meanwhile, back at the CIA, the powers that be want to track him down to recover a lethal black box called “Pandora’s Box” – yes, really - that can control satellites and make them crash into Earth. It’s been stolen by a team of “ghosts”, namely Xiang (Donnie Yen), Serena (Deepika Padukone), Hawk (Michael Bisping), and Talon (Tony Jaa). Having no idea how to find them, they manage to locate Xander Cage, who reluctantly agrees to help them find the box. You see, Xander has problems with authority figures, so he agrees to help, but only on his own terms.

First, he goes to London to visit with Ainsley (Hermoine Corfield) and her bevy of beautiful, bikini-clad “girls”, because she can find anyone, on or off the grid. Skimpily-clad women are a recurring motif in the film. Remember whom I said would love this film? Then he assembles his own team of renegades: sharpshooter Adele (Ruby Rose), “baller” Nicks (Kris Wu), and stunt driver Tennyson (Rory McCann). By the way, Ice Cube returns as Darius Stone in a cameo.

Meanwhile, back at the C.I.A., Chief Operative Jane Marke (Toni Collette) and the Agency Director (Al Saprenza) are up to no good. Unbeknownst to each other, they both want Pandors’s Box for their own agendas. Working for Marke is Becky, a master hacker and techie, appealing played by Nina Dobrev. She and Rory McCann provide most of the comic relief in the story, much needed since most of the “jokes” spoken by other characters fall flat. Rounding out the officials is Marke’s flunky Paul Donovan (Tony Gonzalez) who mainly serves as a punching-bag for Cage.

Of course you’ll know what the outcome will be in this excessively cliché-filled script. No need to belabor plot points. I don’t really know what Toni Collette, alarmingly saddled with garish heavy make-up, is doing in this film, and most of the time she acts as if she doesn’t know either. Yes, there are many fight scenes, but they don’t flow as smoothly as they should considering the martial arts talent of the cast.

So what is there to like about xXx: The Return of Xander Cage ? There is actually some very impressive stunt work aside from the fight scenes. Kudos to whoever designed the stunts involving skis, skate boards, motor cycles, and motor cycles modified to double as jet skis. Also, Bollywood star Deepika Padukone is a welcome addition even though she is clad mainly in tight black leather.

As for Xander Cage, his role can best be described in the words of Gibbons: “Kick some ass, get the girl, and try to look dope while doing it.” So if “dope” is an adjective in your vocabulary, you’ll want to see the film. - JoAnne Hyde

GRADE: C


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