Directed by D.J. Caruso. Produced by Joe Roth, Jeff Kirschenbaum, Vin Diesel, and Samantha Vincent. Written by F. Scott Frazier. Release date: January 20, 2017.
I can only imagine that someone looked at the financial success of the last Fast and Furious movie and asked their boss if they could hire Vin Diesel to do one of those, but without an established brand. The boss thought about it and said: "okay, but what if we tie it to the xXx franchise?" Of course, Diesel's character was killed off-screen in that, and nobody's thought about it since 2005, but if that'll get the movie made, it was agreed. Now we have a third xXx movie, one that could almost be mistaken for a Fast and Furious film - and it's actually kind of fun.
Yeah, as it turns out, putting Vin Diesel in the leading role of a no-brains action movie with a diverse supporting cast propping him up is a formula that is repeatable - at least for a while. So, now we brought back Xander Cage (Diesel), who apparently faked his death because the screenplay demanded it and has just been hanging out, waiting to be found. After his boss, Agent Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) is killed, Cage is brought back into the fold to find a MacGuffin that was stolen by some parkour rebels, only to eventually discover that there's more to the story than that.
Some of you are probably wondering who Xander Cage is and why he matters - and I forgive you for that, since the last time we saw him was in 2002. Well, he was a government operative who was excellent at activities one would find at the X-Games - making him you know, invaluable. He was replaced by Ice Cube in the sequel. It doesn't matter, anyway, since we all know he's just Vin Diesel doing Dom Toretto again, just with slightly less of an over-the-top focus on family - even though this movie starts heading in that direction rather quickly.
But, hey, you aren't here for the story. It's bog-standard anyway. You want to see action. You want to see an international cast of characters - and their stunt doubles - do a bunch of cool flips and tricks. And you want to see it nearly nonstop. You know what? xXx: Return of Xander Cage delivers on all of that. I usually lament when people say "it's just a dumb action movie; turn off your brain and enjoy it," but usually that's said when not even the action is good. For all its flaws, the third xXx movie delivers in that area.
xXx: Return of Xander Cage is pretty much exactly what I want out of a B-grade action movie.
If you saw the trailer, you'll know that one of the action scenes sees Cage ski through a forest. You know, without snow. That same scene sees him transfer from skis to a skateboard, all to deliver an item whose purpose winds up being humorous. xXx: Return of Xander Cage doesn't ever begin to take itself seriously, and that's to its credit. It's an $85 million B-movie, and it's very, very easy to enjoy.
Of course, ignoring its problems would be intellectually dishonest, even if a few of them ultimately don't matter a whole lot. Does it matter if the plot is largely irrelevant, each of its turns and twists easily foreseen? Not really. I have more of an issue with its climax ending thanks to a deus ex machina, or how most of these characters have maybe half a trait to their names, or some of the dodgy CGI. There's constant action, the action is good, and it's all done in a let's-not-take-this-seriously way, which is lots of fun.
I'm not sure if the cast of xXx: Return of Xander Cage was chosen because they're the best people who would sign on to the job or to try to do big business overseas, but it's pretty cool to see Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, Tony Jaa, Ruby Rose, and Kris Wu all have significant roles in an action film. Sure, they're all here playing second-fiddle to Vin Diesel, but they all get moments to shine. There's isn't a ton of good acting here - the characters are too thin and the plot too fast-paced to allow for much of that - but everyone's having fun and nobody's bad. Well, nobody except maybe Toni Collette, who is so talented but here looks perpetually angry that she agreed to this film.
xXx: Return of Xander Cage is pretty much exactly what I want out of a B-grade action movie. It's got a lot of action, most of which is technically proficient, and it doesn't take itself too seriously, meaning everyone involved is having fun and joking - and so am I. This is a more enjoyable movie than the last couple of big "team up" attempts that have been released. Script and characters are secondary, and it does have a big problem with its climax, but for its relatively brief stay on our screens, it's a good deal of fun. It's not for people wanting a "serious" movie, but you'll already know that. It's not great, but xXx: Return of Xander Cage is the first theatrical movie of 2017 I didn't dislike seeing.
Bottom Line: As a junky B-movie, xXx: Return of Xander Cage is really fun.
Recommendation: If this seems like your sort of thing, absolutely go see it! You'll have a blast.
If you want more of Matthew "Marter" Parkinson, you can follow him on the Twitter @Martertweet.