Review: Vin Diesel is back as Xander Cage in new 'xXx' movie

Fred Hawson

Posted at Jan 23 2017 12:24 PM

The first "xXx" film was shown in 2002. We got introduced to Xander Cage (Vin Diesel), a skilled professional athlete of multiple extreme sports who gets recruited into being an operative for the National Security Agency by Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) under the xXx program. Reviews about this film were mixed, but it was a box-office success.

The second film in the series was shown in 2005, with the subtitle of "State of the Union." However, Diesel dropped out of the project because he did not like the script. This resulted in the cinematic death of his character Cage and the introduction of a new xXx spy Darius Stone (Ice Cube). This sequel was a major disaster both critically and at the box office.

It took 12 long years and getting Vin Diesel back again to resurrect the franchise this year. By this time, Vin Diesel had already generated significant goodwill in his other action film franchises, so I am sure his stunts here will be very good. That Caramoan was mentioned as a featured location is a plus. For me though, it was the casting of my favorite Asian actor Donnie Yen made it imperative for me to catch this one.

A device called Pandora's Box, which is capable of causing satellites to crash back into earth, is stolen from the CIA. One of these crashed satellites causes the death of Augustus Gibbons. CIA agent Jane Marke finds Xander Cage, who apparently just faked his death and was hiding in exile in the Caribbean, and convinces him to get the box back from the thieves, led by rogue spies Xiang and Serena.

Vin Diesel may look and act the same way in all his films, but his presence is a guarantee of awesome stunts and action scenes. "Return of Xander Cage" is no different. Cage would be skiing and skateboarding in separate breathtaking sequences within the first 20 minutes. Then throughout the rest of the film, we would also see him top those with even cooler stunts hanging ten in a pipeline wave on a motorcycle and free-falling out of a crashing cargo jet without a parachute. Unbelievable, yes, but because it's Vin Diesel, we believe it!

I am so happy to see Chinese superstar Donnie Yen in his second consecutive Hollywood blockbuster after "Rogue One." As Xiang, Yen of course gets to figure in several scenes doing what he does best -- elegant, rapid-fisted martial arts, among other stunts. I wish he got to do more though.

Indian superstar Deepika Padukone played Serena, a beautiful and dangerous gunfighter. This is Padukone's Hollywood debut and I thought her turn here is very strong, even if her role was not too challenging for her talents, and she even had to fall for Diesel's irresistible charms.

Three more actresses play notable female characters. Nina Dobrev plays Rebecca "Becky" Clearidge mostly as comic relief, and she is indeed a nerdy delight. Ruby Rose was badass as the lesbian sharpshooter Adele Wolff with the sharp witty tongue. Toni Collette was a very bossy Jane Marke, campy arched eyebrows and all. Everyone in the cast all knew that they were playing over-the-top characters and they knew well to play them with tongue in cheek, all in the spirit of fun.

This film does not claim to be intellectual and it should not be judged for its shallow script. You do not even need to see the first two "xXx" films.This is pure adrenaline-powered fun so it essentially succeeds in its modest aims.

Compared to the other major Diesel-led franchise, "Fast and the Furious," this one should be its poorer cousin, played entirely for brainless entertainment and nothing else. Those obviously special-effects aided action scenes may well be too ridiculously impossible to be real, but don't let that bother you. Simply suspend our disbelief and just enjoy the ride. 7/10

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."