XXX: The Return of Xander Cage Review

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Bringin’ Mountain Dew back in style

My…”love” for awful films is pretty well known to my readers. There is a certain joy in tearing apart a film that doesn’t work on any level. I have way more fun writing those kinds of reviews that mediocre fare where certain elements worked well enough on a technical level but just came across as boring in the character or story department. But there’s a special level of bad films where the creators believed every word they put down to paper before committing to film and screw up in ways that are simply put, adorable. Like a big, dumb puppy running into a pillow over and over again because he doesn’t know any better. These are your Jupiter Ascending‘s or Norm of the North‘s or The Identical‘s, meet the latest entry in this storied tradition: XXX: The Return of Xander Cage.

For those of you who were nothing more than a twinkle in your daddy’s eyes, back in 2002, Vin Diesel got the bright idea he was TOO big for The Fast and the Furious and dumped his costars for a solo project all about an “x-treme” (trademarked by the 90s) James Bond. Yeah, one who liked to snowboard and do stunts while playing video games, just like every 36-year-old man at the time. XXX was a bizarre little action movie that seemed to be fueled by a potent combination of Surge and Mountain Dew which made it painfully dated for the time it came out. And it performed so badly at the box office, that Diesel said “no” to a sequel, requiring the studio to hire Ice Cube to star in the follow-up, XXX: State of the Union, which died an even more painful death into obscurity.

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“Don’t knock it, I’m in this goddamn movie too” Uhhh…spoiler? “Who gives a damn?”

But, after Diesel’s success with the revamped Fast & Furious franchise and because, bless his soul, he still thinks a teenager even though he’s turning 50 this year (seriously), someone thought it was a good idea to resurrect XXX from the grave…and it’s decomposed body still reeks of awful energy drinks producing a rancid smell that gives hallucinations to anyone within a 50-mile radius. Which is a charitable way of saying, Vin Diesel didn’t do a bloody thing to change up the formula except make it more “X-TREME.” And, despite his best efforts to make an unwatchable movie, Diesel succeeds once again…kind of.

See the story of The Return of Xander Cage begins with Samuel L. Jackson’s character recruiting another sports star (literally Neymar Jr…trust me when I say this is the least ridiculous event in this movie) into his XXX program which takes X-TREME athletes and turns them into super secret agents. However, a satellite is hijacked through a device called “Pandora’s Box” (because idiot movie deserves idiot names) and crashes right into Jackson’s location, apparently killing him and his pasted on wig. As a result of his death and the fact Pandora’s Box is now in the hands of four X-TREME secret agents led by Donnie Freaking Yen,the NSA tracks down the legendary Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) to hunt down the killers of his former mentor. Yet Cage is just too X-TREME for the spy suits and the well-trained soldiers at his disposal to get the job done, so he hires his own crew consisting of an assassin (Ruby Rose), a getaway driver known more for getting INTO car crashes than actually escaping (Rory McCann), and a DJ who can barely speak English (Kris Wu). Why does Xander need a DJ? Because he’s a quick thinking man desiring an eccletic gang of rogues…sorry I meant X-TREME!!!

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“We’re so hardcore we play hot potato with live grenades” (this actually happens)

If my description hasn’t clued you in, this is a film that simply has run out of fucks to give. I’m trying to tone down my cursing in the future…but it’s freaking impossible to hold back here. This shit is freaking ridiculous. I mean your re-introduction to Xander Cage is finding him in Dominic Republic skiing down a mountain in the summer…so you might be asking yourself how the hell is he skiing? Why he’s simply use the skiis through dirt roads and trees of course! All before hopping on a skateboard and shredding down the roads while pulling off literal impossibilities of gravity. And after Xander gets recruited for his job, he proceeds to find Donnie Yen and his gang by having an orgy with a harlem of hackers. Not even freaking kidding, Diesel is shown to have sex with, by my counts, about 9 women before he starts getting into fist fights.

Now before you start saying, “Well that sounds sexist as hell,” the film tries to counter you by saying “Oh no no no, you see all the other women in our film are highly intelligent ass-kickers who can shoot guns and beat up dudes with ease!” But then you counter-counter with “Yeah but I guess all the other women want to jump Vin Diesel’s bones too?” To which the film quickly spurts out a “NO,” before meekly stating “ok, yeah.”

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“I maybe a bad ass, but uterus desires for more Diesel” -Said no one ever

One of Diesel’s first female partners is played by Nina Dobrev (Elena in The Vampire Diaries) who comes across as a nerdy weapons expert and hacker who immediately fawns over Xander Cage and her desires for BDSM. Upon meeting this girl, Xander simply replies to this over-excitable girl that she should breathe deep and if she continues having problems, he “knows mouth-to-mouth.” A pick up line so terrible, that it will likely be used by ever PUA next weekend. Although the funny thing about Dobrev’s character was that she reminded me of a video game character named Kinsey from the Saints Row series who was also an ultra-intelligent hacker and weapons expert who was into BDSM. However, this “coincidence” makes perfect sense when you realize that Diesel is an avid game nerd…no seriously, he has a tattoo of his favorite Dungeons & Dragon character in real life and owns a video game company that feature characters of his likeness including two Riddick games and one that was pretty much a Fast & Furious knockoff.

I bring these facts up because everything about this movie is what a 13-year-old would consider to be “bad ass” from the ass-kicking girls, to the ridiculous stunts, and the globetrotting hero who talks his way into any party or any girl’s pants. But as odd as this sounds, I was having fun with this absurdity. Oh, don’t get me wrong, on any other day this movie would be getting a SOME OL’ BULLSHIT from me, because quality-wise it’s THAT bad. But it’s so brazen and relentless in trying to one-up itself in what it defines as X-TREME that you start laughing at it. And in a few scenes, it’s almost as the film is satirizing ridiculous action movies as well. But the biggest fault I have with the movie is that it’s not sure whether it wants to be a parody or a serious action film; and it keeps flip-flopping between the two, so you’re not sure if it’s taking the piss out of itself or if it’s drinking the piss with absolute glee.

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“So are we shooting at dudes on either side of us at the same time, or are we doing this to look cool?” “Why not both?”

This comes to ahead when the second antagonist (oh yeah, we have multiple antagonists) reveals himself to be a nameless spymaster who wants to shut down all intelligence agencies because…poorly defined reasons. While he monologues about awesome he is, Diesel sets up a trap for this doofus involving Ruby Rose’s character, who’s apparently such a good sniper that she can shoot right between Diesel’s fingers from four blocks away using a thermal sniper rifle scope (again if you can’t buy Samuel Jackson recruiting Neymar into being a spy, you can’t accept anything else in this freaking movie). Oh yes, and in several scenes, the Kris Wu’s DJ character is somehow able to infiltrate every situation they need to break into because every situation is a party that Caligula would be proud of. Also this DJ somehow knows how to use a pistol as a trained hitman…somehow.

Heck, even the other action sequences crank up the idiocy levels to 11, like when Diesel uses a dirt bike to punch out several Russian Spetsnaz (don’t ask how they got there, they literally just appear out of nowhere with no lead in or explanation). Right after this scene (which transitions from the dead of night to morning to mid-afternoon in the matter of seconds), Diesel is in a chase with Donnie Yen aboard dirt bikes that also turn into jet-skis because Sir Isaac Newton can kiss the darkest side of Red Bull’s ass with how nonsensical the physics works. Actually, speaking of Yen, he provides several of the movie’s best sequences with ridiculously over-the-top fight sequences that legitimately impressed me.

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“I am always amazing…always”

The rest of the supporting cast turn in memorable appearances with their own kick ass moment of the day ranging from Ruby Rose using some torn sails as a makeshift scaffolding for her sniping abilities to Deepika Padukone (a Bollywood actress making her debut American appearance) going on an akimbo pistol rampage that wouldn’t have seemed so far off in any of John Woo’s classics. However, no one, not even Xander Cage, has a “character” they’re just a list of abilities helpfully listed out to you a la Suicide Squad. Freaking Tony Jaa (from the Ong-Bak series) feels wasted here as a dude who pretty much dances and laughs all crazily while disarming a dude aboard a motorcycle (who apparently served as the sole security guard patrolling the outside of the CIA’s secret New York City headquarters…don’t ask).

Overall, the movies is let down by the lack of character combined with the insipid story and the badly-written script which incidentally copied lines from the first XXX with Diesel mistakenly believing that most people would remember his stoic one-liners (I only do because my memory allows me to recall atrocious screenwriting lines and yet easily forget if I changed my air filter). But the action scenes are so ludicrous and the actors hired were so colorful (and diverse, credit to Diesel for trying to appeal to a global market) that the film balances out for me in terms of bad films. Because make no mistake, XXX: The Return of Xander Cage is a very, VERY bad film; but it’s an ENTERTAININGLY bad film. I would love to watch this drinking with friends and howling about how stupid this all is. So if Diesel’s mission was to entertain me then…well mission freaking accomplished I guess.

This is the film that abysmal Point Break remake wanted to be and failed miserably. While bad on a quality level,  you can make this a fun movie watching experience under the right circumstances. Hence, wait for this to hit Redbox and crack open a 24 pack to let the insults fly. This is getting from me a very low…

RENTAL

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