Movie Review: "xXx: The Return of Xander Cage"

The 1990s offered up a “Knight Rider” spinoff television series called “Team Knight Rider.” The opening of the show, essentially, explained that while in the past one man and one car could accomplish the job of saving the world (or at least Michael Knight’s corner of it), now a team was required.

“Team Knight Rider” immediately springs to mind with “xXx: The Return of Xander Cage.” The movie could just as easily be titled “Team xXx.” Yes, Vin Diesel is returning to the franchise he fronted in 2002’s “xXx,” a franchise that continued without him—and Ice Cube in his stead—in 2005’s “xXx: State of the Union,” but this time it’s still a team affair.

The thing of it is though, it is unclear exactly why Xander (Diesel) needs a team… especially team member Nicks (Kris Wu), who is just a DJ. There is an argument to be made for team member Adele (Ruby Rose), who is a gun expert, and maybe even Tennyson (Rory McCann), who crashes into anything he can, but why Xander feels like he needs a DJ to stop a terrorist from dropping satellites on people/things is rather murky.

To be fair, there is much in this D.J. Caruso directed film that is murky. Chief amongst these items probably isn’t the team aspect—which very much feels like someone took a look at how Diesel’s “Fast and Furious” franchise has been able to continue for so long and decided it is the team bit that makes it work—as much as it is the camera shots and editing. It isn’t just that the cuts are too quick to determine what is happening in many of the action sequences, it’s that they are too quick and the camera is in too close or too shaky or too otherwise dynamic or some combination thereof. The result is that Donnie Yen is there on screen (he’s a bad guy) and while the audience can tell that Yen is utilizing his martial arts skills to pull off some fancy moves, they can’t quite see what the moves are. The audience just knows the moves are taking place and that they are excellent.

The advantage of the editing and camera shots used in the film is that it most definitely ups the pace of the movie as well as adding to its sense of style. It just does this at the expense of substance.

That said, there really isn’t that much substance there in the first place. The plot, essentially, runs like this – bad guys have stolen a device which allows them to crash any satellite anywhere they want on the planet with pinpoint accuracy. Team xXx has to go out and stop the baddies.

If that sounds a little bit like a slightly rejiggered version of Pierce Brosnan’s first James Bond outing, “GoldenEye,” that’s because it is. But that’s okay because another moment in the movie harkens back to “Licence to Kill,” while a third is closer to “Moonraker.” I don’t want to get into the “South Park” thing from years ago about how “The Simpsons” have already taken every plot a cartoon TV series might, but for a spy franchise that very much feels as though it wants to position itself as cooler than Bond, hewing too closely to Bond plots/action sequences is a problem.

“xXx: The Return of Xander Cage” does, however, succeed in one massively big way – the charisma it puts on screen. It isn’t just Diesel and the others mentioned above either. There is also Samuel L. Jackson, reprising his role as Augustus Gibbons, Toni Collette as another government operative running the xXx operation, Deepika Padukone and Tony Jaa as baddies working with Yen’s Xiang, and Nina Dobrev as the xXx team’s Q. Each and every one of them has the charisma to carry the whole thing off, and together they’re rather unstoppable.

Combined with the relentless pacing, the cast makes the movie oh-so-very watchable. It is just that they aren’t given enough to do that is new/different from what we have seen before, the action sequences are undercut by how they’re filmed, and a couple of the surprises along the way aren’t very surprising.

Caruso has created a very slick, very high gloss, pulse-pounding movie. At the same time, it is full of missteps and unfulfilled promises. “xXx: The Return of Xander Cage” feels very much like it is setting us up for the next movie in the franchise and even the one after that rather than concentrating on being the best movie it can be. This is definitely a team I want to see again—especially if they can find an actual role for the DJ—I just want it to be in a better movie, one which doesn’t rely so heavily on obvious surprises and which allows the stunts/fights to play out rather than allowing them to be undercut by the way in which they’re filmed and edited.

 

 

 

photo credit: Paramount



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