Paramount Pictures and Revolution Studios
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January 20, 2017 at 02:02 PM EST

XXX: Return of Xander Cage

type
Movie
release date
01/20/17
performer
Vin Diesel, Ruby Rose, Samuel L. Jackson, Ice Cube
director
D.J. Caruso
Current Status
In Season
mpaa
PG-13
We gave it a B

Though Vin Diesel has occasionally shown us different sides of that glistening, bald head during his two-decade career on the big screen, notably Saving Private Ryan and Sidney Lumet’s 2006 courtroom drama Find Me Guilty, the 49-year-old action figure is most at home flexing his muscles in movies like xXx: Return of Xander Cage, a rollicking shot of adrenaline that’s every bit as ludicrous as the word soup posing as its title.

Returning to the franchise he launched (and abandoned) in 2002, Diesel reprises the titular role as an extreme-sports thrill-seeker-turned-government-operative long presumed dead by the NSA. Cage is a man with his own very particular set of skills, and the ruthless agency chief (Toni Collette) enlists his help for a high-stakes operation that involves racing against a band of renegade evildoers in pursuit of “Pandora’s Box,” a curious device that’s knocking military satellites out of the sky and into densely-populated areas.

Though it’s technically a sequel, broaching the world of xXx isn’t exactly as daunting as dropping in cold halfway through a Terrence Malick movie. Xander Cage works as a standalone romp just as well as an old-fashioned Roger Moore James Bond film. There’s not much to grasp beyond momentary thrills and settling in for a wild ride without wondering why, halfway through a vehicular chase scene, Cage’s motorcycle sprouts fins and becomes a jet ski capable of skimming across a tidal wave.

Like most films in Diesel’s filmography, Xander Cage is loud and ridiculous, playing to his strengths and, in turn, directly to its target audience. Director D.J. Caruso tailors his vision for the film around the inherent likability of his leading man, encouraging Diesel to ham it up (nudges and nods to the audience abound, like when Cage breaks the fourth wall and addresses the camera before high-tailing it out of trouble) without getting drunk on his charismatic fumes. As a result, Xander Cage snaps, crackles, and pops with the kind of unabashed playfulness often missing from brooding, high-octane action fare, and its smug appeal intensifies each time the film winks at its own absurdity.

In the end, you can’t expect more or less from a flick that begins with its central character base-jumping (sans parachute) from a radio tower only to land atop a pair of skis some 400 feet below, gliding through the thick of the jungle just for kicks. The stunt is preposterous and unnecessary, but like the film built around it, a hell of a ride nonetheless. B

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