xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE Review

return of xander cage

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Director: D.J. Caruso

Genre: Action

Year: 2017

The moist freshness of a Cancun-kissed vacation, captured through the lens of a 2005 AXE deodorant commercial. A Caucasian man so chauvinistically bald that he is easily mistaken for a (slightly racist) Hispanic archetype. Women so intoxicated with his tendons that the movement of a single artery makes them gush. Humor right out of your nephew’s multiplayer headset. Set pieces written by a writers’ room of Chinese UNCHARTED 3 fans. xXx is back! And this time, it’s so ethnically diverse that Americans better take a back seat. This rodeo is for all of those who’ve waited years for an Asian-centric Hollywood bonanza. And by God, is it bananas!

Is Vin Diesel’s xXx straight edge? This is the question xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE makes sure to answer. It’s a resounding “yes,” if you didn’t already guess. After two repeated sequences in which Diesel doesn’t order a drink at a bar, and then proceeds to toss a shot over his shoulder when it’s forced on him, I was confident I had hit the peak of cinema. But I was wrong. So wrong. xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE is uninhibited fun. It’s exhibitionism of the highest order, a product of shameless, paleolithic nerdgasms. This is the action-hero film in which our protagonist is paraded around in his finest cosplay from THE REVENANT, only to be exalted left and right by literally every single person on screen. If The Fast and the Furious is about family, xXx is about Diesel (would make a little more sense switched around, dontcha think?).

return of xander cage hugh

For what it’s worth, Hugh Glass has great summers

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Or so I thought. After the dust of Diesel’s grandstanding introduction settles, director D.J. Caruso takes a tip or two from the FAST FIVE rulebook. Ensemble is where it’s at. I had a presumption that something of the sort was brewing as soon as Samuel L. Jackson received a title card reminiscent of last year’s dud, SUICIDE SQUAD. It was slowly validated through the introduction of a goofy fauxhawk-sporting parkour expert, his indestructible buddy, an Indian temptress, and a man whose stunt work can only be described as JOHN WICK, but slathered in Jell-o. The latter is also played by the amazing Donnie Yen, a wonderful surprise that pays off in spades, especially when he’s sliding around the room like someone was really committed to their janitorial duties.

But here’s the thing: xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE is, without a shadow of a doubt, the goofy, irreverent anti-hero party that SUICIDE SQUAD so desperately wanted to be. Hey, better late than never! Anyhow, Toni Collette hires Diesel and his team, compiled of Ruby “Cirque Du Sharpshooter” Rose, Kris “I’m A Baller” Wu, and a man who I can only describe as Chuck Norris with a pacifier. (He’s played by Rory McCann, a peculiar casting choice that I imagine occurred after he spontaneously broke into a gospel song after being told to show the producer a special talent.) This rag-tag team need to stop a terrorist who has decided to use satellites as missiles. I’ll let that one sink in. Alright? Moving on.

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Honestly not sure if a lesbian subplot would have felt too catered to male viewers or just progressive ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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After the formalities of introducing our leads are settled, the film equally divides its running time between an act in the Philippines and… Detroit? Bridging each divide are tags occurring inside of a military cargo plane. It’s all very METAL GEAR SOLID: GUNS OF THE PATRIOTS. I’m stretching it, I know, but my point stands: this is a film patently unconcerned with a human lexicon. It knows we’re here to turn off our brain and lets us have it. Marvel never lets me do this, so I’m happy someone is giving me the goods. If the music and casting choices are anything to go by, xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE wasn’t really made for native English speakers anyway, so if bad dialogue is your gripe against it, then why did you buy tickets for this? Plot-wise, it’s all certifiable, but the reason Caruso’s vision works is because it doesn’t waste a second.

Diesel’s return to this franchise is, for all intents and purposes, a three-act video game. Brief dialogue sets up why we need action. Instead of lengthy analyses from IT specialists, we get a one sentence exposition dump stating that, “the nerds in the lab _____.” And you know what? It’s all we need! There isn’t a whole lot of plotting, contemplating, or general filler. No love interests—just brief pampering, witty rhetoric, and a lot of crazy stunts. Most Hollywood films should take cues here, seriously! This is what I paid for, and frankly I’m relieved to finally watch a blockbuster that clocks in under two hours. I mean this seriously; the only lengthy tableside dialogue scene involves three characters playing hot potato with two grenades during a beachside party! The fragrant objectification of women is unacceptable, full stop. Nonetheless, I’m very welcoming of a film that allows Diesel to be the face that sells a film mostly composed of people of color. Especially when it’s this much unabashed fun.

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Take a wild guess as to what Diesel is holding in this scene. I fucking dare you

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And here is where I drop the bomb. To a far lesser degree, xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE is to Asian-centric action what MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was to female-centric spectacle. It’s a bold claim, and I concede that Diesel’s latest doesn’t meet the cinematic heights of George Miller’s magnum opus (especially because the ethnicities at play are purely incidental, and good for eastern marketing). But hey, this is really solid stuff, and honest-to-God action. Outside of the Fast franchise, films like this really don’t get made anymore, and it’s a pleasure to see Caruso embrace such a love for absurdity. On a formal level, this isn’t good writing. Its antagonist is virtually nonexistent, most (but, surprisingly, not all!) characters are cardboard cutouts or service Diesel’s ego-boner, and the plot makes as much sense as that arcade game you never had the coins to finish. But you know what? Sometimes skiing down a forest and riding my motorcycle on the ocean is all I want? Maybe I need to see Vin Diesel flush five innocent soldiers out of a cargo plane. He’s clearly doing it all for shits and giggles, so I’ll be damned if I can’t.

Verdict: Recommend

Sergio Zaciu

"When I make love, I realize eating steak was the preferable alternative." Sergio is the Crossfader Film Editor and a film connoisseur from Romania. He pretends to understand culinary culture enough to call himself an LA foodie, but he just can't manage to like scallops.

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