[Screen It]


(2017) (Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen) (PG-13)

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Action: A thrill-seeking government operative comes out of self-imposed exile to try and recover a weapon of mass destruction known as Pandora's Box.
Xander Cage (VIN DIESEL) was known as an extreme sports competitor before he was recruited by Augustus Gibbons (SAMUEL L. JACKSON) to become a government operative as part of Gibbons' xXx program. But that was years ago. Xander grew tired of authority, faked his own death, and has been living off the grid in the Dominican Republic ever since. But when Gibbons is killed by an intentionally crashed satellite caused by a terrorist operating a super-weapon known as Pandora's Box, Xander is drawn back into NSA service by Gibbons' successor, Jane Marke (TONI COLLETTE).

He's up against a team of former xXx agents gone rogue, headed by the ruthless Xiang (DONNIE YEN). His team consists of Serena (DEEPIKA PADUKONE), a weapons expert; Talon (TONY JAA), an acrobatic, martial arts daredevil; and Hawk (MICHAEL BISPING), a former Mixed Martial Arts fighter always looking to brawl.

Xander knows he has to assemble a team of equally specialized, risk-taking rogues. So, he calls on Adele Wolff (RUBY ROSE), an expert sniper always looking to challenge herself; stuntman Tennyson Torch (RORY McCANN), who specializes in crashing cars; and Nicks (KRIS WU), a club DJ with insane fighting skills. They are aided by government IT specialist Becky Clearidge (NINA DOBREV), who regards Xander as a living legend. He'll have to be when the mission takes him from London to the Philippines to Detroit.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Criticizing "xXx: Return of Xander Cage" would be like criticizing an old Looney Tunes cartoon. Like the classic animated fare featuring the Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote, and Bugs Bunny, the film has no need for such trivial annoyances as gravity or physics. Who needs 'em when you can drop Vin Diesel off a 200-foot tall communications tower and have him land on skis in the forest below without breaking every single bone in his feet, legs, and back? Who needs 'em when you can have Donnie Yen jump off a freeway overpass onto a moving semi, get knocked off that 18-wheeler, and then hit by a car only to have him get up and continue running?

The film is utterly preposterous. But here's the deal. It knows that it's preposterous. It doesn't for a second take itself seriously. And if you do, you might as well call Wikipedia and ask them to pose for their "old fuddy-duddy" page, because that's where the photo of your face will be best displayed.

No one wants to see "xXx: The Years Xander Cage Spent in Traction." We want to see Diesel's Cage out-racing avalanches and driving motorcycles on ocean waves. He did the first feat of craziness in the film "xXx" in 2002. He takes a Harley right through a Wave Tube, and you can practically hear a Beach Boys song in your head redone as a thrash metal tune.

Clearly, Diesel is trying to use and even duplicate some of the elements of his mega-popular "Fast & Furious" series into re-launching a franchise that went dormant in 2005 when he didn't return for the first sequel and was replaced by Ice Cube. Here, he ups the craziness of the stunts and action set pieces to absurd levels. He assembles a diverse and appealing cast. And while he doesn't cram "family" down our throats as he and the crew have in the past couple of "F&F" flicks, he does make it all about the team here.

The team is a bunch of outcasts, outlaws, misfits, and malcontents. They start out rivals, but they eventually have to team up. And in addition to himself and Yen (who gets a couple of freakin' amazing martial arts fight sequences in this flick), the cast also includes martial arts wizard Tony Jaa, UFC Middleweight Champ Michael Bisping, and NFL great Tony Gonzalez. The ladies are equally tough and appealing and include Ruby Rose of "Orange Is the New Black," Nina Dobrev of "The Vampire Diaries," and Bollywood beauty Deepika Padukone.

Can any of them act? Again, who cares? These parts and this film do not call for Daniel Day-Lewis and Dame Judi Dench. In fact, the best thespian in the cast is former Oscar nominee Toni Collette, and I think she gives the worst performance. She's the baddie, and she doesn't quite get into the vampy spirit of the piece. She's laughable when swearing (which is often). I would have preferred an actress more adept at slicing the ham like Salma Hayek or Famke Janssen.

The plot is paper-thin about a weapon of mass destruction that knocks satellites out of the sky and into major population areas. And Cage's motivation for coming out of self-imposed exile after more than a decade and then being SO committed to the cause is laughable. There's also a strange moment in the film where Deepika's character is apparently fed up with Yen's enigmatic terrorist Xiang and shoots him in the back of the head. But the bullet pings off his noggin, and we can clearly infer he has some kind of Wolverine-like metal plate back there. But it's never referenced again.

But "Return of Xander Cage" is such dumb fun, that its flaws are almost endearing because the movie is trying hard at almost every turn to just flat-out entertain its audience. I had no affection for the first two "xXx" films going into this. But I got into the spirit of this one. You can almost begin the series again here, which is what Diesel is hoping, I imagine. Right now in Hollywood and outside of the Disney studio, there's no one better at milking cash cows than he is. I give this a solid 6 out of 10. (T. Durgin)

Reviewed January 18, 2017 / Posted January 20, 2017

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