xXx: Return of Xander Cage opened in second place last weekend but is doing better business overseas. It’s the stupidest f*cking movie in the world but sure, let’s review this sucker like it’s a real movie. (This is not a real movie. This is the Vin Diesel equivalent of Glamour Shots—an expensive waste of time meant to boost one person’s ego in a way that is unintentionally hilarious to everyone else.) It’s been twelve years since the last xXx movie but for Vin Diesel it’s still the glorious early-aughts, when everyone still had a Neon Nineties hangover and the grimmer post-recession outlook had not yet set in. You know, back when “dark and gritty” was how you described dirt, and not the preferred mode for blockbusters.
That’s one thing Return has going for it—it’s certainly not dark and gritty. This movie is the equivalent of shot-gunning a Monster energy drink and yelling “Woo!” before back-flipping off your friend’s deck and onto a trampoline, except you miss the trampoline and just crash head-first into the ground and end up on the internet, where everyone laughs at you. Vin Diesel returns as Xander Cage, a covert operative so bad at his job he has the name of his top secret espionage unit tattooed on the back of his neck. After faking his death, Cage has been living in the Dominican Republic, crushing pussy and catching sweet air. One day Toni Collette shows up and says, “I have a bad agent,” to which Cage replies, “Yes I will rejoin your sooper seekrit x-treme spy team.”
The problem at hand is that Samuel L. Jackson was killed by a falling satellite—one of the less stupid plot points, honestly—because there’s a doohickey that can control any satellite called Pandora’s Box. (There is always a doohickey that control anything and it’s always called Pandora’s Box.) Donnie Yen (Ip Man, Rogue One) is the head of another sooper seekrit x-treme spy team and they steal Pandora’s Box and Cage is supposed to stop them and get Pandora’s Box back and I’m pretty sure this movie was written by a nine year old mashing action figures together. (Officially written by F. Scott Frazier and you will never convince me that’s a real person.)
This movie is extremely loud and also edited to smithereens. It is a complete waste to have martial artists like Yen and Tony Jaa and not shoot their fight sequences in wide shots light on cutting, the better to let us take in the fight choreography. But no, their fights in Return are shot in the hyper-active multi-camera, quick-cut style meant to cover for lesser stunt performers, and not only is it an insult to their abilities, it’s also migraine-inducing for the viewer. Good action photography is full bodies in frame and a camera that moves with the action instead of cutting around it, like this bit from John Wick. (Am I going to reference John Wick in every action movie review? Bitch I might.)
Ruby Rose is in this movie and while Rose is eminently watchable, Return of Xander Cage is so bad not even she can make it bearable. Not even “Vin Diesel skiing through a jungle” or “riding dirt bikes on water skis across the ocean” can save it, and those are breathtakingly dumb set pieces that ought to be good for guilty pleasure viewing, at least. The chief problem—besides the stupid as sh*t “plot” and atrocious editing—is Vin Diesel himself. Ole penis head just isn’t a charismatic actor, and he desperately needs a foil to be an actual human being to his cardboard box impression of humanity. That’s why the Fast/Furious franchise only got “good” once The Rock joined up—Dwayne Johnson is charming and makes up for the charisma vacuum that is Vin Diesel.
I will give Diesel this—he is extremely good at self-promotion and convincing people to invest in his dumb f*cking movie ideas. If only he applied even half the acting skill it must take to get people to throw tens of millions of dollars into “x-treme sports spy movie” to his actual acting! Then we would have a movie that goes from “hellaciously bad” to “hellaciously bad with tolerable acting”. There is no reason to watch xXx: Return of Xander Cage. Just chug energy drinks and run yourself into a wall and you’ve pretty well recreated the experience of watching it, anyway.