Review: ‘xXx: Return of Xander Cage’ Still Dumb, Not As Fun

Perhaps, during the past 14 years, you’ve pondered what might have become of Xander Cage, the thick-necked, skateboarding slab played by Vin Diesel in 2002’s fun-but-dumb action flick xXx. If so, you’re in luck! A sequel has now arrived, for no earthly reason whatsoever, to answer that question! And to provide even more of the dumb, but very little of the fun.

For various reasons (money) that audiences were not privy to (money), Diesel opted out of 2005’s xXx: State of the Union, and was replaced by Ice Cube. No one really noticed this, however, because no one bothered to see that movie, choosing to follow Diesel over to the Fast and the Furious films instead. But it looks like he really missed playing CIA-trained X-treme sports whiz Xander Cage. And why not? Cage is exactly like James Bond, only American, and if you swapped out the Aston Martin for a dirt bike, and put him in a sweaty tank top, and gave him smooth, lady-killing lines like, “Breathe -- I know mouth-to-mouth if necessary.”

The plot of xXx: Return of Xander Cage, which is somehow both non-existent and incomprehensible, involves satellites falling out of the sky because they’re being controlled by a magical tech McGuffin called “Pandora’s Box.” The CIA, represented by Toni Collette in a white suit and raccoon eyes, desperately wants the thingamajig, and the only person who can get it is presumed-dead Xander Cage. He’s living as a skateboarding folk hero in the Dominican Republic, and even though he’s supposed to be dead, the CIA knows exactly how to find him! After a ridiculous Bond-like action scene where he risks life and limb to restore TV reception to a small village, military goons scoop him up and deliver him to Collette on her comically large airplane.

What follows is a slapdash film, flimsily constructed around the giant action set-pieces. The airplane, it turns out, is so comically large that when it’s out of control toward the end of the film, there can be gunplay and martial-arts action in zero-G. A full third of the movie is devoted to Cage gathering his team from various spots around the globe, which the Comically Large Airplane can get to in mere hours no matter the location. This means that the action can jump from the Philippines (bikini-clad women tending bar at a beach rave! Jungle dirt-bike chase!) to Detroit (running, jumping, and punching on a gridlocked freeway!) to the Large Hadron Collider (I just made that one up, but it wouldn’t seem out of place.)

The script, by Rich Wilkes (Airheads, The Jerky Boys), shoves dialogue into characters’ mouths that sounds like it was made up on the spot by a stoned 17-year-old production assistant. Collette, describing the bad guys for Diesel, says they “took out the best of the best like it was Sunday brunch.” It’s dialogue that’s forgettable not because it’s uninspired, but because it literally makes less sense the more you think about it, so forgetting it is the only way to maintain sanity.

Director D.J. Caruso (Disturbia) allows Diesel to play to his strengths, which are essentially smirking and having muscles. A genuinely good actor when given something to work with, he embraces the material here while giving away no glimmer of awareness that there’s really no fun going on, just a lot of noise and busy-ness in the service of nothing. The only moments that have real life involve action legend Donnie Yen, whose grace and speed are still breathtaking, and make Diesel’s dirt-bike flips all the more ludicrous.

It’s hard to imagine that even the niche audience for which this film was made -- devotees of rave music, mindless gunplay, and tattoos -- will give this movie a second thought after opening weekend. It’s nice that Diesel got to put on Cage’s fur coat one more time, but this passion project doesn’t offer much for the rest of us.

Grade: D


Dawn Taylor lives and dirt-bikes in Portland.

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