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New Release Review - XXX: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE

Second sequel to the 2002 extreme sports based action romp.






Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: DJ Caruso

Starring: Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, Toni Collette, Samuel L Jackson, Ruby Rose, Nina Dobrev, Tony Jaa, Kris Wu, Ice Cube



Back in 2002, at the height of his first wave of fame, Vin Diesel starred in XXX, a goofy action movie in which he played Xander Cage, an extreme sports star recruited by Samuel L Jackson to join a new branch of the NSA, the XXX division, comprised of fellow thrill-seekers turned secret agents. The film did respectable business, but with Diesel declining to return for a sequel, 2005's Ice Cube headlined follow-up, XXX: State of the Union, barely turned a profit. It seemed the XXX franchise was dead and buried.



Growing international markets have changed the blockbuster landscape however, and with wads of that sweet, sweet Chinese cash in play, we now have an unlikely third movie in the franchise, with Vin Diesel returning and accompanied by a cast of people who just happen to be stars in some of the world's most populous nations. From China, we have the duo of Donnie Yen and Kris Wu; from Thailand, Tony Jaa; from India, Bollywood superstar Deepika Padukone; and from Brazil, footballing wunderkind Neymar (yes, really).

There's something refreshing about a potential blockbuster that panders to a global, rather than American audience, but there's equally something awfully cynical about the manner in which all these international icons have been stuffed into a narrative that simply doesn't have room to accommodate their respective talents. The opening 10 minutes play like a commercial for FIFA, with Jackson attempting to recruit Neymar, playing himself, for his shady organisation. After a sequence in which the Brazilian baller uses his fancy footwork to foil a robbery, we cut to Diesel's Xander climbing a giant TV transmitter, which he repairs to allow a nearby village to watch a football match. "You have brought the world to us," beams a young boy.



The plot, such as it is, sees Xander once again pulled into the XXX program, this time by Toni Collette doing her best Charlize Theron impression, and packed off to a variety of exotic locations -including The Philippines, London, and er...Detroit (I guess the travel budget eventually ran out) - to find the whereabouts of a rogue terrorist with satellites in his control. This sees him come up against Yen and his crew of breakdancing bad guys, who are also out to get their hands on the satellites.

It's a shame that the film's Chinese backers couldn't have hired a Chinese director, one who knows how to exploit the physical talents of its martial arts stars. In the hands of DJ Caruso (a director who is such a journeyman I suspect he keeps a permanently packed suitcase in his closet) we get the usual lazy Hollywood combination of shaky cam and quick cuts. If you squint hard enough you might get the impression Yen and Jaa are pulling off some pretty impressive moves, but the ADD editing means their considerable skills are entirely wasted. It's baffling, like hiring Fred Astaire and filming his dance sequences entirely in closeup.



On the plus side, XXX 3 refuses to take itself seriously. It seems to aim for the tone of Roger Moore era Bond, but its leading man is devoid of Moore's sleazy charm, and suffers from a lack of chemistry with his more charismatic co-stars. Nina Dobrev is the film's comic highlight as a horny techy (you can tell she's a nerd as she wears glasses) who engages in some filthy flirting with the titular meathead, but she may as well be chatting up a tree trunk, given the lack of returning spark.

XXX: Return of Xander Cage is in UK/ROI cinemas now.





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