xXx: The Return of Xander Cage


I moved to Seattle from New York last Saturday. As is the nature of cross-country moves, this ended up being an exhausting, laborious, emotional, expensive ordeal, from which I have yet to fully recover. Every stage of the moving process was unnecessarily problematic, from finding an apartment in Seattle to booking a moving company to packing up all our crap. By the time my sister and I boarded our plane at JFK early Saturday morning, spirits broken, backs aching from heavy lifting (we packed something in the range of 3500 pounds of stuff, most of it books), shins and knees scraped and bloody, hips and spines bruised from sleeping on bare floors since the moving truck carted away our worldly goods the previous Wednesday, we were running on fumes.

Our flight, thankfully and unexpectedly, was bliss. Delta treated our wounded souls gently, presenting us with free and tasty food, perfectly decent coffee, and a kick-ass in-flight entertainment system loaded with movies. I could’ve watched something classy—Moonlight, maybe, or Hidden Figures, or Lion—but my fatigued brain demanded nothing more taxing than a dose of pure, idiotic escapism. I killed time by watching xXx: The Return of Xander Cage.

Best decision I’d made in a long, long while.


xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is a joy. It’s an elixir of happiness. It’s the Platonic ideal of what a butt-dumb action film should be: ridiculous and overblown and brainless, yet so cheerfully committed to ridiculous and overblown brainlessness that it succeeds on all possible levels (see also: White House Down, in which United States President Jamie Foxx fires a rocket launcher out of the window of an SUV while Channing Tatum spins donuts on the White House lawn). I love it with all my heart. My sister and I now own a copy of xXx: The Return of Xander Cage; in the past week we’ve watched it twice, sitting on the floor in front of my laptop in our unlit and still-empty Seattle apartment (our possessions are slowly chugging their way across the country). Before our stuff arrives, we’ll probably watch it again, maybe more than once. And we’ll thoroughly enjoy it every time.

Directed by D.J. Caruso, xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is the third installment in a series that began back in 2002 with the original xXx, a fitfully entertaining action flick starring Vin Diesel as a cheerily lawless extreme-sports enthusiast who ends up working for a top-secret NSA spy program. It was followed by a tepid sequel, 2005’s xXx: State of the Union, in which Diesel’s Xander Cage was replaced by Ice Cube’s Darius Stone, former Navy SEAL and convicted felon turned reluctant xXx agent. Twelve years later, Diesel returned to the franchise, and magic happened. Weird, stupid, utterly endearing magic.


xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is the movie Suicide Squad wishes it could be, loud and colorful and irreverent and teeming with chaotic energy. It’s funny, too, with a gonzo, anything-goes tone established in the opening sequence, in which Samuel L. Jackson’s enigmatic Agent Gibbons, the head of the NSA’s ludicrous xXx program and the only character to appear in all three films, attempts to recruit adorable Brazilian soccer superstar Neymar (played, in a bit of crackerjack casting, by adorable Brazilian soccer superstar Neymar) to his team. Neymar politely listens to Gibbons’ sales pitch, agreeable yet befuddled: No doubt confused by the presence of Jackson, he thought he was being recruited to join the Avengers. 

And then the bad guys use a fiendish device to, ahem, yank a satellite out of the sky and drop it right on Gibbons.

Readers, by this point in the movie, I was sold.

Diesel’s Xander Cage is lured out of retirement by Gibbons’ successor (an icily wry Toni Collette) and given an assignment: retrieve the fiendish device, which is currently in the hands of a quartet of totally awesome and kick-ass ne’er-do-wells. Heading up the villains is Hong Kong martial arts legend Donnie Yen as Xiang, the film’s clear MVP in a cast of strong contenders. Yen is effortlessly charming, and he moves like a goddamned dream; between this and his movie-stealing turn in Rogue One, Yen’s Hollywood career is entering a hot streak. His team is rounded out by knife-wielding Serena (model and Bollywood star Deepika Padukone, who is fabulous in every way), Talon (martial artist Tony Jaa, Thai-born star of the Ong-Bak series), and Hawk (UFC champ Michael Bisping).


To thwart Xiang’s team, Cage assembles his own team of attractive and endearing nitwits: animal-loving sharpshooter Adele (Ruby Rose, everyone’s crush), unhinged crash expert Tennyson (Rory McCann, best known as the Hound in Game of Thrones), and fun-loving party boy Nicks (Chinese singer/actor Kris Wu). 

The teams collide. Stuff happens, all of it ludicrous and wildly entertaining. A lot of people fall out of planes. Vin Diesel skis down a radio tower. Motorcycles turn into jet skis. There are cameos, there are sight gags, there are surprise alliances. There’s a wholly welcome slew of great female characters; in addition to Collette, Padukone, and Rose, the film features Vampire Diaries star Nina Dobrev as giddily enthusiastic equipment specialist Becky and Hermione Corfield as ace hacker Ainsley. The film passes the Bechdel test, repeatedly and effortlessly. It’s queer-friendly. It boasts an impressively multi-racial and multicultural cast. It’s buoyantly silly and genial. It’s actually… I don’t know, kind of good?



xXx: The Return of Xander Cage currently sports a score of 43% at Rotten Tomatoes, proving once again that I am hopelessly out of step with critics and the movie-going public, and thus my opinions are not to be trusted.


Comments

DKoren said…
I loved the first one (I'm a huge fan of Marton Csokas), it was great silly fun and me laugh a lot. I skipped the second one, but this one sounds even better (minus Marton, sniff). I wanted to see it in the theater, but timing was bad. So adding to the top of my netflix queue Right Now!!!

Glad you're officially moved. Hopefully your stuff arrives in short order and you get settled in. Moves are so stressful just in the same state. I can't imagine what a cross-country one is like.
Morgan Richter said…
Marton Csokas! Yeah, the first one was silly and entertaining. The third one is a gem, though.

Our stuff is due to arrive today, we hope. We're playing the waiting game right now, sitting on the floor twiddling our thumbs. Moving is the worst.
Illesdan said…
I wanted to watch this, now I'm going to have to find it. Sometimes, we just need entertainment that doesn't make you think. My guilty pleasure for that is 'Empire Records' and 'Hot Fuzz', I've watched both way too many times...

Moving is just the worst, there is nothing about the process that is fun. Out of health reasons, we'll probably move at some point in the future, but, stupid as it sounds, I don't want to attempt it until both our cats are dead. I think they'd be devastated if we moved away, it's all they've ever known.

You need to watch the Baywatch movie, I regretted nothing.
mousie mouse said…
i'm so glad your move is over! it sounds like it was completely horrible. i kept waiting for news, all the while thinking, "if she isn't talking about it, it must be going really badly..." hopefully settling in is going more smoothly than the packing up part did.

one of my friends wanted to see xxx for kris wu, because he used to be a member of exo. XD
Morgan Richter said…
Moving is terrible. Illesdan, I feel you -- we were going to move in Seattle back in 2013, then held off because we thought it would be too cruel to move our elderly and much-loved cat. The Baywatch movie has been added to my list...

Mousie -- oh, yeah, the move was absolutely horrible. We still haven't quite recovered, body or spirit. My back hurts and I have hand spasms that prevent me from turning the frothing knob on the espresso machine or popping champagne corks without pain. As I am powered by cappuccino and champagne, this has been a hardship. But our new place is great, we finally have our books and beds, and we will recover in due time.

Kris Wu is pretty adorable. His major skill in xXx is, quite literally, that he's "fun to be around" (this is brought up multiple times), which actually turns out to be fairly useful.
DKoren said…
Okay, it is now watched, and it was everything you said it was. That was FUN. I adored Donnie Yen and Ruby Rose in particular, but everyone rocked. The captions when they introduced people were laugh outloud funny.

So glad you reviewed this one. I'm wound up and ready for action myself and that was just so much dang fun.
Morgan Richter said…
Ah, so glad you joined the xXx bandwagon, DKoren! I thought the movie was glorious, with Donnie Yen and Ruby Rose as the standouts of a damn entertaining cast.

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