Posted Jan 19 2017

XXX Return Of Xander Cage - This Movie Doesn't Rock The First X, Let Alone The Other Two

Dir: D. J. Caruso

Starring Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, Tony Jaa, Sam Jackson, Toni Collette, Ice Cube

15 years we’ve waited for the Return of Xander Cage. (Come on, be honest – have any of you really been waiting?) And on the strength of this third bout of triple X’s, was it worth the wait? Not even slightly. (Don’t act surprised.)

First, let’s be positive. Director Caruso can handle an action sequence or two. Two, max. Here though there are several, all presented in a manner that rapidly becomes uniform and unrelenting, bludgeoning, even.

Diesel has spent those missing fifteen years desperately attempting to establish himself as being a solo star, not just a team player in a franchise that unexpectedly got bigger as much as it got faster and furiouser. (Yes, that’s a word now.) His last attempt, The Last Witch Hunter, fell on its face, Babylon A.D. died on the page and as to Riddick, well, the more he makes of it, the more he alienates us, at the same time as reminding us that Pitch Black was a very decent bit decidedly one off film.

Whilst we’re still focusing on the positive – Donnie Yen is great value here. And there’s a nice Avengers joke at Sam Jackson’s expense. And a cute reference to Bourne and his literary fighting style. And – to its credit – for the most part, the movie does know it’s total nonsense and sticks with that.

OK, now the rest. It’s easy to see why Diesel would return to his former extreme skateboarder, and whilst there is something potentially old school about Xander Cage; it would then have been nice to see the film stay old school with him. Instead, what Diesel and co do is try to follow the F&F formula and set out to make everything bigger and bigger, laws of physics – or even CGI – be damned. So, yes it’s fun to see Vin and Donnie go mano a mano amongst the freeway traffic. But why does said traffic look like some of the ropiest CGI you’ve seen in years? We know this is a cheap movie on so many levels, but we didn’t think it included the FX budget.

As the movie progresses, it gets bigger, louder and proportionally less and less engaging. And strangely enough, in his desire to set himself up with a solo series, Diesel surrounds himself with not just his own cliché-ridden crew, but then co-opts Donnie Yen’s, at which point the movie resembles less and less a star vehicle and more and more what it has actually become – the Fast and Furious’ low-rent bastard cousin. On your mother’s side, twice removed.

The film’s ultimate failure however lies with Diesel, a man whose finest performance on screen still remains his voice work on The Iron Giant all those years ago. Despite the increasingly deep voice and the increasingly packed out vest, Diesel profoundly lacks charisma. It’s in every quip he delivers after every take down – or rather it isn’t. The man simply lacks wit. And delivery. You sit there praying for the delight of a Connery “Shocking”, or even an Austrian Oak “Stick around.” Diesel, by comparison just sounds awkward.

And don’t get us started on his sex appeal! For all the gorgeous young women, gratuitously offering themselves up to him, and with him apparently doing all he can to keep them happy and coming back for more, Vin Diesel remains very probably the most asexual action hero the screen has ever held. Roger Moore today in his eighties would be more convincing. On every level.


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