May 19, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE

Starring Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, Kris Wu, Ruby Rose, Tony Jaa, Nina Dobrev, Toni Collette, Samuel L. Jackson, Rory McCann, Tony Gonzalez, Ice Cube, Neymar Jr. Directed by D.J. Caruso. (2017, 106 min).

Were that many people really pining for Xander Cage's return? Probably not. The original xXx, released over a decade-and-a-half ago, was hardly a cinematic milestone. Essentially James Bond for the X-Games crowd, the film was undemanding summer action to be enjoyed in the moment by teen boys, then largely forgotten by the time school started up again.

Still, while star/exec-producer Vin Diesel may be over-estimating the character's enduring popularity just a tad, as belated sequels go, xXx: Return of Xander Cage ain't too bad at all. Perhaps that's because, unlike fan anticipation surrounding something like, say, Mad Max: Fury Road, the xXx franchise isn't what anyone would consider iconic. It's hard to be too disappointed in any sequel to a movie than wasn't all that memorable to begin with (honestly, can you even recall what the plot was?). In fact, if it weren't for the title, I wouldn't have even remembered Xander Cage's name.

At any rate, Diesel's back as everyone's favorite tattooed adrenaline junkie, once again reluctantly recruited to save the world by recovering a satellite-controlling device called Pandora's Box, which was stolen from the CIA by Xiang (Donnie Yen) and his eclectic team of cocky, super-skilled renegades. So Cage forms his own team of cocky, super-skilled renegades to locate Xiang and retrieve the box. But it turns out Xiang's gang are also former xXx agents and the real Pandora's Box is in the hands of a madman bent on causing worldwide destruction.

"He did it!"
Of course, the plot itself is just a clothesline on which to hang everything, all of which is so amped-up, over-the-top and ridiculous it makes The Fast and the Furious look like Manchester by the Sea. Gage leaps from a radio tower, skis down a snowless mountain and defies gravity with a skateboard just to provide a local village with TV reception a soccer game. And that's just in his opening scene. Later, he punches baddies in the face with a motorcycle (which he also rides an ocean wave with), plays Hot Potato with two grenades and leaps from a plane without a parachute, confident he'll grab one on the way down. Never once does he - or anyone else - even display an iota of trepidation, laughing-off danger with a supercool wisecrack or devilish grin.

"Hang on...I'm just gonna grab me a weenie."
Though this film is even more outlandish than the first two combined, there's an almost self-aware quality to the proceedings that renders the whole thing rather fun, as though everyone involved knows it's ridiculous and plays it to the hilt. Vin Diesel is clearly having a good time, once again playing a less serious version of Dominic Toretto, stopping just short of winking directly at the camera to remind us he's just playing around. This time, however, it's the great Donnie Yen who wins the MVP award. Not only is he inherently cooler than Diesel on a good day, his jaw-dropping fighting skills are here in abundance. He's practically a special effect unto himself.

Don't bother looking for any logic, such as the inexplicable reappearance of a character we watched die, or a welcome-but-implausible cameo by Ice Cube, who took Diesel's place in the second film. But hey, at least the series remembers its past, even if some of us don't.

For those willing to play along, xXx: Return of Xander Cage is a goofy good time, more than happy to be a send-up of itself for the sake of entertainment. And really, it's hard to completely dismiss any movie with the audacity to feature a techno rave filled with high-heeled, scantily-clad models...in the middle of a remote jungle.

EXTRA KIBBLES
FEAUTETTES: "Third Time's a Charm: Xander Returns"; "Rebels, Tyrants & Ghosts: The Cast"; "Opening Pandora's Box: On Location"; "I Live for This Sh#t!: Stunts"
GAG REEL
DVD & DIGITAL COPIES
KITTY CONSENSUS:
NOT BAD...LIKE CAT CHOW

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