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“xXx: Return of Xander Cage” Movie Review by Van Roberts

An amusing catalogue of B-movie clichés from start to finish, “Eagle Eye” director D.J. Caruso’s “xXx: Return of Xander Cage” (**1/2 OUT OF ****), the long-awaited sequel to Rob Cohen’s “xXx” (2002), isn’t quite as exhilarating as the original.  Nevertheless, everybody looks like they had a blast making this predictable, often preposterous nonsense that refuses to take itself seriously during its 107-minute running time.  If you’ve seen both the original “xXx” as well as “xXx: State of the Union” (2005) with Ice-Cube, then you won’t be surprised by what happens or who happens to be in what happens in this stunt-laden extravaganza.  Nevertheless, “xXx: Return of Xander Cage” qualifies as an above-average epic owing to its charismatic cast, “Titanic” lenser Russell Carpenter’s breathtaking cinematography, the bravura editing of Vince Filippone & Jim Page who cut together the Robert Downey & Val Kilmer thriller “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” and director D.J. Caruso’s adrenaline-laced pacing.  This outlandish, over-the-top, triumph of style over substance never wears out its welcome and occasionally delivers something wholly original for an action epic.  A classic scene finds our heroes and heroine playing a game of hot potato with live hand grenades as they sit around a table.  They hurl the hand grenades back and forth among themselves so the grenades glance off the tabletop like tennis balls, and then they snatch them before they explode.  Later, Diesel and Deepika swap pistol and knife back and forth during a showdown.

xxx_return_of_xander_cage_film_poster-jpegThe premise of “xXx 3” differs from “xXx.” A villain who can convert a geostationary satellite into a tactical weapon that he can crash like a bomb from space is as far-fetched as it is imaginative.  Good guys and the bad guys alike make impressive entrances.  A brawny, heavily tattooed Vin Diesel reprises his role as the eponymous legend, and Samuel L. Jackson joins him as his scar-faced superior Augustus Gibbons. The remainder of the robust cast, including Kris Wu, Ruby Rose, Tony Jaa, Nina Dobrev, Rory McCann, Toni Collette, Hermione Corfield, and Neymar Jr., create characters with a sense of personality.  Seen recently in “Rogue One, A Star Wars Story,” Yen steals “xXx 3” with his hyperbolic martial arts skills which are indisputably spectacular. For the record, “xXx” came out in 2002, and it has taken “xXx 3” about fifteen years to follow it up, with greater emphasis on tongue-in-cheek humor than violence.  The third installment in the Columbia Pictures franchise makes “xXx” appear serious with straightforward shenanigans in Eastern Europe against an army of former Soviet soldiers that christened themselves ‘Anarchy 99.’  After Xander Cage defeated these murderous dastards, he vanished to parts unknown.  Officially, in “xXx 2,” Xander was pronounced dead. Now, Caruso and Frazier show us that rather than six feet under, Xander Cage has been hiding out in the shimmering Dominican Republic.  Mind you, Triple-X hasn’t been performing the kind of high-profile stunts, like plunging Senator Dick Hotchkiss’ red Corvette off a bridge in the original, which might attract attention to his whereabouts.  Indeed, going into hiding has curbed some of Xander’s grandiosity, but he hasn’t forsaken his sense of audacity.  He pirates a cable television feed of the World Cup Championship to disadvantaged fishermen and basks in their adulation.

Meantime, Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson of “The Hateful Eight”) struggles to persuade Brazilian soccer star Neymar Jr., to join the xXx organization, but one of those crashing satellites obliterates Gibbons.  Not long afterward, the CIA acquires a sophisticated gadget, ominously termed ‘Pandora’s Box,’ that enables the user to crash satellites.  No sooner has the government acquired that device than a group of thieves, led by Xiang (Donnie Yen of the “IP Man” trilogy) and his sidekick Serena Unger (Deepika Padukone of “Happy New Year”), with Talon (Tony Jaa of “Ong Bak 2”) and Hawk (Michael Bisping of “The Anomaly”) in tow, burst into CIA Headquarters and steal Pandora’s Box.  Gibbons’ successor, Jane Marke (Toni Collette of “Muriel’s Wedding”), summarizes their predicament, “We need someone who can move like them, fight like them.”  This time Marke tries the same strategy that succeeded for Gibbons when he recruited Cage in the first outing.  Similarly, Cage sees through the ruse and agrees to tangle not only with Xiang and his people but also recover Pandora’s Box.  When Marke assigns an elite Special Forces group with Paul Donovan (newcomer Tony Gonzalez) in charge, Cage dismisses them in contemptuous fashion and recruits his own trustworthy team.  He summons lesbian assassin par excellence Adele Wolff (Ruby Rose of “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter”), rave DJ Harvard “Nicks” Zhou (Kris Wu of “Mister Six”), and British getaway driver Tennyson Torch (Rory McCann of “Clash of the Titans”), and they set out to retrieve Pandora’s Box.  Naturally, Triple-X is surprised when he confronts Xiang in the Philippines and learns that Gibbons had commissioned Xiang to purloin Pandora’s Box in the first place.  Cage realizes with sudden clarity that he has been duped, and he joins forces with Xiang to thwart their common enemy.  Despite its formulaic shenanigans, “xXx 3” generates a surfeit of excitement as our heroes and villains go toe-to-toe in slam bang fashion.

Apart from its smashing satellites that threaten innocent bystanders, “xXx 3” differs from “xXx” because Xander fought largely by himself in the original while he assembles an army of four to provide back-up on his latest mission.  Presumably, to market “xXx 3” globally, the producers cast celebrity stars from other countries to charm international audiences.  This stratagem succeeds, except that Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa never get a chance to surpass their exploits in previous action epics such as the “IP Man” trilogy and the “Ong Bak” trilogy.  Director D.J. Caruso never lets you catch your breath and stages each action scene for maximum impact.  Although little in “xXx 3” is remotely unusual, Caruso choreographs it with a hell-bent-for-leather velocity that never slackens.  “xXx: Return of Xander Cage” doesn’t top the original “xXx,” but it is no slouch where action movies are concerned.

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