Wednesday, November 29, 2023

The Return of Xander Cage is Not the Fun Action Film You’re Looking For

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I walked through Missouri-like winds and rain in Los Angeles to see xXx: Return of Xander Cage. My clothes were soaking wet. I was tired because I hadn’t slept for seventeen hours. I saw a sequel to a movie that I didn’t care for when I saw the original over a decade ago. On top of that, I found myself seated beside a seven-year-old girl.

I don’t like kids. At all. I’ve never really seen the point of them. I like seeing movies with children even less. Of all the movies I imagined I would be watching next to a little girl and her family xXx: Return of Xander Cage would not be the one I would’ve guessed. I should be thankful it wasn’t Lars Von Trier’s The Antichrist.

I tell you all of this, so you understand these are not the ingredients of a recipe for a good time for me. Maybe if I had been less stubborn or less obtuse, I would’ve been able to see the signs. The little hints by the universe to stay away.

I barely remember anything, and I just saw the movie a few hours ago. It’s like a cloud of vapors. I try to latch onto a memory and only come up with a thought. Why?

One could argue that a movie about an anarchist James Bond such as Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) would be the hero we need in these troubled times. But having seen Vin Diesel play this character under two different presidents, I can honestly say we’re good. No more, please.

No more having Vin Diesel sleepwalking through an action movie. No more wasting the wonderful Donnie Yen as the anarchist Xiang who steals Pandora’s Box. A device that can essentially weaponize satellites. A McGuffin if ever there was one. As McGuffin’s go is not even that original. Of course, this raises the question: Doesn’t your film have to be about something if not about the Mcguffin?

Vin Diesel is an affable enough actor, but here he seems on autopilot. Although early on there’s a moment with him in a ridiculous fur coat that tells me he was struggling for ways to have fun with this character. For all Vin Diesel’s charm, he is blown off the screen by Yen. He comes onto the screen, and the movie becomes just slightly more bearable. It’s a pity the script couldn’t give Yen something to work with he might’ve gone a long way to saving the movie.

As it is xXx: Return Of Xander Cage is impressively dull. Especially with such a talented cast. From the opening scene in which we are treated to Samuel L. Jackson as Augustus Gibbons. Jackson does his level best to mislead us into thinking we are getting ready to watch a fun film until the film cruelly kills him off in the first five minutes.

Xander is brought in by the NSA to avenge Gibbons death and to retrieve the Pandora’s Box from Xiang (Yen) and his gang. He is hunted down and recruited by Jane Marke (Toni Collette). Who is Marke? I have no clue. Frankly, I don’t think the movie knows either. Nor do I care. Coincidentally enough the movie doesn’t either. Toni Collette is a marvelous actress capable of playing any role given to her. It’s sad that the screenplay by Rich Wilkes has her just short of standing off to the side of the screen as she stares blankly into the camera.

It’s not her fault. I blame Caruso and Wilkes. These two have teamed up to give us a racially, sexual, and gender diverse movie and have managed to make not a fun popcorn movie but the cinematic equivalent of expired spam. How did this happen?

There’s so much wrong with this movie is a wonder anything works at all. But there is stuff that works. And that’s what makes xXx: Return of Xander Cage so mind boggling infuriating. The actors involved are not untalented. But much like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story we’re given hardly any time with these characters. I get that the movie is short on time, so are we all, but would it kill the screenwriter or the director to just give us something more than just flashing a character’s Call Of Duty handle on screen.

What time we do spend with these people amount to bullet points in an outline. Serena (Deepika Padukone) is Xiang’s right-hand woman. Friend? Lover? Partner with fringe benefits? Who knows. The movie sure doesn’t. She is, of course, the badass damsel who is badass except for the moment where she falls into distress only to be saved by Xander. Of course, by action movie law they must now banter endlessly; trading sexual innuendos mixed with plot exposition.

There’s no spark in their exchanges, though. The only sparks in this movie come from the gun play, of which there is plenty. Things blow up as well. A lot. It’s all so much noise you would expect something to be accidentally good. And there is.

Becky (Nina Dobrev) is the bisexual Q for Xander. Dobrev is a delight. A breath of clean, fresh air in a movie filled with smog. She manages to have chemistry with almost every character she encounters. She’s a sweet ball of dorky humor and quick wit. Her scenes are far and away the best in the movie.

xXx: Return of Xander Cage is so bad that it even squanders Ruby Rose as Adele the lesbian assassin. It’s hard to defend a movie that manages to strike out when you’re pitched a grapefruit like Ruby Rose as a lesbian assassin.

The moments when the movie really clicked were the ones without the men. In this testosterone-fueled, torpid machismo fantasy the scenes where the women interact and fight together are the best of the entire movie. This movie which never met a woman it couldn’t sexualise either by clever design or happy accident is at it’s best when the women are together. As cliche as Rose’s character is, as flat as Padukone is written, when the two are back to back in a John Woo style shoot out, the movie is truly awe inspiring. Thrown in Dobrev’s plucky Jimmy Olsen-esque personality and you have a movie I actually want to see.

God how I hated this movie. Not just because of everything I went through to see it. It’s just a lazy, stupid, eyesore of a movie. It’s weirdly ugly. There’s no flair to it. It’s all blase zips and zooms. The color is flat. Rarely has such a ‘high octane’ action movie felt so rote. The whole thing is just this flaccid drab experience.

If upon reading this you think I have done a botched job in telling you what the movie was about. I assure you the incomprehensibility of the review cannot compare to the utter mess xXx: Return Of Xander Cage is. Also, the seven-year-old girl I was sitting next to left about thirty minutes into the movie. She never came back. There may be hope for the younger generation yet.

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures


  • Jeremiah

    Jeremiah lives in Los Angeles and divides his time between living in a movie theatre and writing mysteries. There might also be some ghostbusting being performed in his spare time.

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