‘xXx: Return of Xander Cage’ MOVIE REVIEW: Sloppy, Irredeemable Dreck

Image via Paramount Pictures and Revolution Studios

Who on Earth thought it would be a good idea to call a film xXx? Perhaps it was a strategic ploy to sabotage the critics by way of corrupting online reviews with Google-sensitive innuendo and double entendres. While the suggestive title might have raised a few eyebrows initially, there are clearly issues with its performance, and by subversively counteracting potential criticism they have essentially created a stupid franchise that misleads its audience to a less than wholesome part of the Internet. So, if your 11-year-old child asks about the series, it’s best you impose your parental duties and Google it for them.

It goes without saying that the xXx series demands an enormous suspension of disbelief, and with two absolutely awful instalments preceding it, the latest chapter practically begs your forgiveness from the start. The first movie attempted to bring the world of James Bond to a youthful audience by creating an extreme daredevil character whose lifestyle is exploited by a top-secret government agency. The second one sought to attract another demographic by adding an “urban” flavour with the addition of Ice Cube replacing Vin Diesel as the lead. And with the lacklustre (let’s be honest, abysmal) critical reception of those films, I guess there was only one direction for xXx: Return of Xander Cage to take… self-referential.

A mildly amusing opening scene featuring Samuel L. Jackson’s recurring character Augustus Gibbons informs the audience that there’s nothing to take seriously, and the filmmakers assure us they they’ve got their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks. They even wink at the audience by drawing direct comparisons with Jackson’s Nick Fury character from The Avengers (a gag that is repeated ad nauseam further on). So, at this point the film hopes the audience is in on the joke and feels at ease with the level of satire in the direction. And that may be the case for a few minutes, until the action takes over and a full-blown lunacy hijacks the screen.

Image via Paramount Pictures and Revolution Studios

Confirmed to be dead in the second film, Diesel’s Xander Cage character returns without any explanation to his resurrection – thus putting the onus on the viewer to draw that conclusion – and finds himself recruited back into the xXx program. A mysterious team of highly stealthy thieves steal a remote super-weapon with the ability to control all of the satellites orbiting Earth, and Xander must rally his troops (a rag-tag bunch of misfits with absolutely no exposition) to track down the villainous group before they start crashing satellites into populated areas. That’s all you really need to know, and actually, that synopsis is almost too complex for a movie that relies entirely on outrageous action, misogynistic douche-baggery and an overly energised soundtrack. As Jackson himself says, “Kick some ass, get the girl, and try to look dope while doing it”. That, right there, is the real synopsis.

While watching xXx: Return of Xander Cage, one word kept replaying in my mind: Why? Why has this franchise reached a third instalment? Why would Toni Collette sign on to such drivel? And why is director D.J. Caruso (Disturbia, Eagle Eye) at the helm of a movie that’s far below his calibre? The only logical answer, of course, is money, which leads to another “why?” – why are audiences willingly forking over their hard-earned money?

If you want mediocre action without the hindrance of story or character development then you’re in for a treat. You will get to see Diesel skiing down mountainsides, skateboarding through traffic and riding a motorcycle through giant tube-waves (true). You might relish the sight of people free- jumping, free-falling and free-styling (oh, one of them is a professional DJ), and of course there’s some martial arts thrown in for good measure, but while the action is in a constant state of overdrive, it is executed sloppily. At first it’s a little difficult to determine whether there is impressive use of choreography on display. But it doesn’t take long to realise that you’re simply at the hands of trigger-happy editing, content to butcher every scene with an anarchic lack of discipline.

Image via Paramount Pictures and Revolution Studios

The supporting cast features Collette with her charismatic hair-piece, Ruby Rose making her big-screen Hollywood debut, Donnie Yen wishing he’d done Ip Man 4 instead, and Tony Jaa rocking a ridiculous mohawk with little else to do. Oh, here’s another “why?”: Why cast two of the best martial-arts actors in the business and not showcase their skills? Admittedly, Yen does spend a decent amount of screen-time fighting – while quick edits intrude, however Jaa’s incredible abilities are completely ignored in favour of stupid expressions and a raver-like attitude. Both men are underutilised so that Diesel gets to flex his muscles, talk smutty to women and imply sexy things.

I understand the frivolity of movies like this, and my ability to suspend disbelief is second-to-none. I am known to contextualise and celebrate bad cinema, and I have championed some truly stodgy movies over the years (Caddyshack 2 will always reign supreme in my books), and yet I struggle to think of any redeeming qualities for xXx 3. Perhaps a less-than-surprising reveal in the final act lifted my spirits a little… but far too little. And far too late. It’s going to take “two flushes” to get this excrement out of my system.

THE REEL SCORE: 2/10

About Glenn Cochrane

Glenn Cochrane is the producer and host of Good Movie Monday and the founder of FakeShemp.Net. In addition to writing for Screen Realm, he is a lead contributor for Stack Magazine and freelances for various other publications.

He is currently a committee member of the Australian Film Critics Association, despite having a love of 'Caddyshack 2', for which he makes no apologies.

View all posts by Glenn Cochrane