Action Adventure

'xXx: Return of Xander Cage' Film Review: Furiously outdated, but fast and fun

January 20, 2017Ben MK

The term "action movie throwback" is one that gets bandied about with reckless abandon, often in reference to films from the '80s and '90s. xXx: Return of Xander Cage, however, is a throwback to the action movies of the early 2000s. And while it's easy — and one-hundred-percent accurate — to say that director D.J. Caruso's sequel is cheesy and clich├ęd, for the most part, that's also part of its charm.

As its title implies, xXx: Return of Xander Cage sees Vin Diesel reprising his role as the titular character, the world's most extreme — not to mention, baldest and most tattooed — government operative. A former thrill-seeking athlete recruited into the NSA by agent Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) to infiltrate a Russian terrorist organization, Xander was presumed dead (killed off in-between the events of 2002's xXx and 2005's xXx: State of the Union). As is often the case in Hollywood, however, you just can't keep a good action hero down.

Now, with a new, more dangerous threat looming, Xander has been coaxed out of his self-imposed exile and brought back into the spy game by a high-ranking CIA heavyweight named Jane Marke (Toni Collette). His mission this time: to retrieve a high-tech McGuffin called Pandora's Box, before it falls into the hands of a group of highly-trained and extremely-lethal ex-mercenary types (Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, Tony Jaa and MMA fighter Michael Bisping), who — as Xander has been informed — plan to use the device to wreak havoc on a global scale.

Of course, when it comes to international espionage, nothing is quite as it seems, and as Xander soon rediscovers, adversaries can become allies in the blink-of-an-eye, and vice-versa. Teaming him with a crew of "good, bad and extreme" accomplices (Orange is the New Black's Ruby Rose, The Vampire Diaries' Nina Dobrev, Game of Thrones' Rory McCann and Kris Wu), the result has no trouble meeting the genre's quota for globetrotting action and bombastic pyrotechnics; however, it's the series' ridiculously over-the-top stunts that supersede it all.

From an early action sequence that has Xander skiing — yes, skiing — through the lush jungles of the Dominican Republic, to a high-speed motorcycle chase that gives new meaning to the word "hydroplaning," Return of Xander Cage's stunts defy logic, more often than not. Yet, they're also great fun to watch; and — a few instances of hilariously questionable CGI notwithstanding — the fact that neither they nor the rest of the movie take themselves very seriously helps make the overall experience that much more palatable, as well as enjoyable.

That being said, if you're going to derive any enjoyment from xXx: Return of Xander Cage, then you really ought to know what you're getting into. To put it bluntly, if you're expecting anything more than a shallow plot and line after line of eye-roll-inducing dialogue, then you're better off looking to the Ethan Hunts or the James Bonds of the world for your fix of cinematic escapism. Otherwise, if you want to party like it's 1999 and you relish the idea of a dude punching another dude in the face with the front tire of a motorcycle, then this is the movie for you.

xXx: Return of Xander Cage releases January 20th, 2017 from Paramount Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for extended sequences of gunplay and violent action, and for sexual material and language. Its runtime is 1 Hr. 47 Mins.

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