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I Don't Understand the World We Live In Anymore Because I Enjoyed the Hell Out of 'xXx: Return of Xander Cage'

By TK | Film | January 20, 2017 | Comments ()

By TK | Film | January 20, 2017 |


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Holy shit, you guys.

It’s so bad. It’s so stupid. And yet …

OK, so let’s wind the clock back fifteen years to 2002 and the release of xXx, the Vin Diesel actioner directed by Rob Cohen. It came out the year after The Fast and the Furious and two years after Pitch Black, so we’re basically at Peak Diesel. Of those three films, xXx was easily the worst, a dumb, loud, poorly scripted movie with a bunch of failed jokes and overwrought machismo. It was garbage and, as it deserved, it was basically abandoned until it was briefly resurrected in 2005 with a sequel starring Ice Cube (which was maybe marginally better? I don’t know, I was drunk). Meanwhile, Pitch Black also had a terrible sequel in Chronicles of Riddick, but also had a surprisingly excellent video game adaptation in Escape From Butcher Bay and lived on in other games and animated fare. At the same time, the Fast and the Furious franchise took off and became Diesel’s bread and butter, and much like the xXx program in the film, the xXx franchise was — justifiably — left behind.

So in light of all that, it’s particularly weird that the franchise was revived this year. It’s not like Diesel needs the work, and it’s not like the world was clamoring for the return of Xander Cage. And yet, here we are with The Return of Xander Cage. It finds Samuel L. Jackson’s character Gibbons, the boss and lead recruiter of the xXx program, trying to find the next extreme action star to join his program of extreme athletes-turned government badasses. Meanwhile, a high tech project is stolen — another of those “little black box that knows everyone’s secrets and can kill from anywhere” machines that only exist in movies — by a team of slick operatives led by Xiang (Donnie Yen) and includes other badasses played by Tony Jaa, mixed martial artist Michael Bispin, and Bollywood star Deepika Padukone.

As you can see, the film’s producers and director DJ Caruso are going for the most bonkers diversity ever.

Anyway, Cage comes back to the program, recruits his own crew of badasses — including Ruby Rose as a dry-witted sniper, former K-pop star Kris Wu as… a… DJ turned special agent? Um, there’s also The Hound himself, Rory McCann as the getaway driver. Rounding out the cast is Vampire Diaries’ star Nina Dobrev as the nerdy hacker girl, Toni Collette as an NSA boss/iron lady, and former NFL tight end Tony Gonzalez as a special forces operative.

Guys, I couldn’t make this shit up if you gave me a bottle of whiskey and a dartboard.

Anyway, the chase is on, hijinks ensue, there are the usual (predictable) betrayals, and the door is inevitably left open for a sequel. And here’s the thing — xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is spectacularly trashy… in the best possible way. It’s garbage. It’s junk food. It’s bad for you.

It’s goddamn delicious.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s just where I am in the world right now. Maybe it’s because it feels like there’s darkness all around. But I’ll be goddamned if I didn’t have a great time, and it’s not entirely due to the camping flask of Johnny Walker that I snuck into the theater with me. No, the acting is not particularly good — hell, 75 percent of the leads have barely any acting experience. But they make up for it with enthusiasm and a fairly clever sense of humor (with Ruby Rose being the standout and Donnie Yen coming in a close second in the “we’re just here to have a good time” competition). For once, Diesel isn’t just doing his serious rasping about serious issues bit, but instead is smiling, joking around, and genuinely seems to be enjoying himself.

It’s also bolstered by some damn fine fight and chase sequences, which is to be expected when you have the ridiculous physical talents of Yen and Jaa. The action is indeed fast-paced and often downright silly, with sequences including fistfights on a crashing plane, a race between dirtbikes that can transform into jet skis, and other bits of nonsense. But it’s mostly short on explosions and instead heavy on stunt work, speed, and showcasing the performers’ physicality.

Add to this the rather remarkable diversity of the cast (which is a fun and refreshing addition that feels comfortably organic) and what you’ve basically got is a low-rent Fast and the Furious sequel, but with better jokes. It’s hard not to draw parallels to Diesel’s more successful franchise, since they’ve clearly followed its blueprint closely — so closely that if not for Diesel’s presence it would feel like outright plagiarism. Which means that if you’ve enjoyed that goofy-ass franchise, you’re likely going to enjoy this. It’s dumped off a lot of the serious tone that was prevalent in the first film and opted for a more lighthearted one, and it makes it better. Is this a good movie? Fuck no. It’s terrible. But… is this a fun movie?

Yeah. Yeah it is.


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