Saturday, February 25, 2017

It Came From The Cineplex: xXx: Return Of Xander Cage

Hey guys, it's finally here! It's The January/February Film Dumping Ground! Yes, it's that magical time of the year when the major studios burn off all the celluloid bombs they didn't dare release during the all-important Summer and Xmas blockbuster seasons! Awesome! Brace yourselves for two solid months of watered-down PG-13 horror films, cheap CGI kid's movies and fart comedies. It's a fantastic time to be a film fan!

xXx: Return Of Xander Cage was written by F. Scott Frazier and directed by D.J. Caruso.

Frazier previously wrote The Numbers Station and Collide. He really needs to step up his game and become a better writer if he's gonna insist on calling himself "F. Scott."

Caruso previously directed The Salton Sea, Taking Lives, Two For The Money, Disturbia, Eagle Eye, I Am Number Four, Standing Up and The Disappointments Room. Well, at least his work's consistent.

I've always been a fan of action movies. The dumber and more outrageous they are, the more I like 'em. Nothing pleases me more than watching a beefy action hero spout a horrible one liner before killing a room full of thugs.

That said, when I saw the trailer for xXx: Return Of Xander Cage, I thought it was the most ridiculous thing I'd ever seen and not in a good way. I rubbed my hands together with glee, anticipating just how I'd rip it apart in my eventual review. Then a funny thing happened. I went to the cineplex and actually watched the movie, and... it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be

Oh sure, it's completely ludicrous and doesn't make a lick of sense, but it was never boring. I was thoroughly entertained throughout. And in the end, isn't that a movie's job?

So I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think I kind of liked xXx: Return Of Xander Cage! I'm going to make an appointment with my neurologist first thing in the morning.

This is probably the only time in my life I'll be able to go to the cineplex and say, "One ticket for Triple X, please," and not be embarrassed. Now that I think about it, maybe I should have been embarrassed by buying a ticket for this film after all.

I could have sworn I saw the original xXx, but I read the plot synopsis online and it didn't ring even a single tiny bell. Either I watched it and literally forgot every second of it, or I never saw it to begin with. At this point I honestly can't say either way. I do know for a fact never saw xXx: State Of The Union, so there's that.

This marks the second time that Vin Diesel has abandoned a franchise, only to come crawling back to it later. Fresh off the success of Boiler Room and Pitch Black, Diesel starred in 2001's The Fast And The Furious. The film was a big hit, and made Diesel a bona fide star. 

When it came time to shoot a sequel, Diesel turned a $20 million paycheck for 2 Fast 2 Furious, in order to star in The Chronicles Of Riddick, for which he made a whopping $50,000! Um... smart business decision, Vin!

Diesel made a VERY brief cameo appearance at the end of The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift, before returning to the franchise full time.

History repeats itself in the xXx franchise. Diesel starred in the original xXx, but opted out of the follow up, 2005's xXx: State Of The Union. And once again he's returned for the third film.

At this point there's very little difference between the Fast & Furious and xXx franchises. Both feature diverse teams of super-humans performing physically impossible stunts as they travel the world searching for a high tech device that does a thing. I cannot emphasize this enough at this point the two franchises are virtually interchangeable.

In 2016's Doctor Strange, Marvel Studios cast the whitest woman possible as The Ancient One, a traditionally male Asian role from the comics. Predictably, the internet at large flipped its sh*t over this controversial casting, labeling it "whitewashing" and basically saying it was the worst thing to happen since 9/11.

Meanwhile, xXx: Return Of Xander Cage features an amazingly diverse and international cast. There are blacks, whites, Chinese, Japanese, several Brits and even an Indian woman. All kinds of different races, nationalities and genders teaming up and working together. And guess what? No one's saying a thing about this. I've not heard one single peep of positive buzz about the casting.

So I guess the PC Police can only be bothered to bitch and moan when a movie ISN'T diverse, but don't feel the need to praise one if it IS. So as far as I'm concerned they all need to shut the f*ck up then. You can't boo unless you're willing to applaud.

As I predicted back in January, xXx: Return Of Xander Cage is a huge bomb here in America, grossing a very anemic $44 million against its $85 million budget. These days a film generally has to gross twice its production budget just to break even. It's barely managed to do that here.

Fortunately for the producers, foreign audiences can't get enough of the film. It's grossed a whopping $287 million overseas, for a combined total of $332 million! I guess Vin Diesel's still a box office draw in the rest of the world.

This is about on par with the first film, which grossed $277 million against its $70 million budget way back in 2002. Although back then, $142 million of that gross came from the U.S. I guess Diesel was a bigger deal in those days.

SPOILERS!

The Plot: 
In space, a small satellite falls out of orbit and plummets toward Earth.

In a Chinese restaurant in Brazil (?), NSA operative Augustus Gibbons (played by Samuel L. Jackson) tries to recruit Neymar Jr. (played by Neymar Jr.) as an xXx agent. Neymar Jr. declines, saying he's not a hero. Just then an armed gunman bursts into the restaurant. Neymar Jr. kicks a napkin dispenser at the gunman's head, knocking him out. Gibbons says Neymar Jr. is a hero after all, just as the satellite crashes and explodes, seemingly killing them both.

At CIA Headquarters, Jane Marke (played by Toni Collette) informs a group of government and military leaders that the satellite crash was caused by a terrorist device called Pandora's Box. The group that crashed the satellite can use the box to bring down thousands more any time they want, using them as makeshift missiles.

Suddenly four skilled infiltrators Xiang (played by Donnie Yen), Serena (played by Deepika Padukone), Talon (played by Tony Jaa) and Hawk (played by Michael Bisping) use their xtreeeeme skills to burst into the building and eliminate the guards one by one. Xiang steals the Pandora's Box from Marke and he and his team make a hasty exit. Marke says they need to retrieve the Box pronto, and that Gibbons worked with someone who can do it.

Now that we're fifteen minutes into the film, we're finally (re) introduced to Xander Cage (played by Mark Sinclair, er, I mean Vin Diesel), our protagonist. Xander is living in the Dominican Republic, and uses his xtreeeeme skills to climb a tall TV tower and steal a cable box. Diesel's stuntman, er, I mean Xander then skateboards down a steep hill and arrives in a local pub just in time to hook up the box, so the village can watch the big football game. Hooray! He risked life and limb for a stupid sporting event! He's a hero to the villagers! Xander then goes home to his girlfriend Lola, and they make sweet, passionate xtreeeeme love.

The next day, Xander sits in a town square in Santo Domingo. An old white man sits next to him on a bench for a while, then gets up and leaves his case behind. For some reason, Xander opens the case and sees a bomb inside, its timer counting down to zero. Suddenly a SWAT team moves in, seemingly thinking Xander's the bomber. Holy Mistaken Identity, Batman!

Xander begins taunting the SWAT team, obviously not taking the situation seriously. Marke appears and admits it was all a setup and she was testing him. She asks him to rejoin the xXx program, but he's not interested. She mentions that Gibbons is dead, which finally piques Xander's interest. Marke explains that Xiang and his team have the Pandora's Box, and they need to get it back before they use it or sell it to an enemy state. Unfortunately, Marke has no idea where Xiang is hiding. Xander says he knows someone in London who can help. 

Xander flies to London to meet his pal Ainsley (played by Hermione Corfield), who the movie would like us to believe was in the first film, even though she wasn't. She tells Xander he can find Xiang and his gang in the Philippines. Really, that's it? Just "The Philippines?" Why not just say "They're on Earth?" After that, Xander has an orgy with Ainsley's scantily clad female "assistants." This entire scene was completely pointless, and exists solely to pad the runtime and inject a bit more sex into the film.

Meanwhile in "The Philippines," Xiang and his gang are hiding out. Serena tells him they're being hunted and they should destroy the Pandora's Box, but Xiang says they need it.

Marke welcomes Xander back into the xXx program and presents him with his very own C-5 cargo plane, along with a hand picked team of Special Forces soldiers. Donovan, the leader of the soldiers, mocks Xander's dated 90's xtreeeeme look, as well he should. Xandder then stealthily (?) attaches the Special Forces soldiers' parachutes to a cargo crate and jettisons it. The soldiers are then yanked violently out of the hold, as their necks and spines no doubt snap in half. Haw haw! Attempted murder is hiLARious! 

Xander says he'll only work with a hand-picked team he trusts. We're then treated to a montage of this team, complete with onscreen stats. First up is Adele Wolff (played by Ruby Rose), who's in the African Savannah observing a pride of lions. She uses her sniper skills to shoot several hunters in the leg, disabling them. They try to crawl away in panic as the lions pounce on them. Haw haw! Premeditated murder is hiLARious!!

Next up is Tennyson Torch (played by Rory McCann, aka the Hound of Game Of Thrones fame). He's some sort of driver with 198 crashes on his record. Lastly is Nicks (played by Kris Wu), a DJ with no apparent skills that I could see. 

The three are brought in to meet with Xander, and agree to join the mission. Marke introduces them to Becky Clearidge (played by Nina Dobrev), who plays the "Q" role here and gives them high-tech gadgets such as bionic gloves.

The team lands in "The Philippines" and head for a nightclub, which is a front for an arms dealer named Lazarus. Xander finds Serena and Xiang, who has the Pandora's Box. Xiang insists the three of them play "hot potato" with live grenades, in a scene that I'm sure was supposed to be xtreeeeme, but just looks silly. Xander apparently wins the game (I guess?) and Xiang reveals that he and his team are actually xXx agents with their own agenda. Suddenly Russian troops enter the club,  and demand the Pandora's Box. Adele, who's hiding in a nearby tree, shoots all the Russian soldiers as all hell breaks loose. 

Xiang runs off with the Box, and Xander follows. They have a high speed land/sea chase, on motorcycles that can inexplicably transform into jet skis. They surf along a massive wave, and Xiang wipes out. Xander recovers the Pandora's Box. As he wades back to shore, Serena shoots the Box, destroying it. She then decides to join Xander's team (?). For some reason, he welcomes her aboard (??). 

Marke then informs Xander that the Box Serena destroyed was just a prototype, and there are apparently many more. One was just used to destroy a Russian stadium. For some reason, Xander comes to the conclusion that someone inside the CIA was in on the plot to help Xiang steal the Box. He reviews security footage of Marke's briefing, and notices that Director Anderson, whoever the hell that is, was the only one who didn't flinch when Xiang attacked.

Xander then somehow locate Xiang, and chases him through the streets, while Tennyson, and the others pursue Hawk. Xander catches Xiang, and the two engage in an epic hand-to-hand battle in a warehouse. They stumble into Director Anderson's lair, which is filled with multiple Pandora's Boxes. He monologues that he crashed the satellite that killed Gibbons. Adele sets up her sniper rifle in a building across the street, and shoots Anderson in the head.

Marke arrives, and her people recover all the Pandora's Boxes, and arrest Xiang and his teammates. Marke, Xander and Xiang board the C-5 plane, while the other two xXx teams stay on the ground. 


Marke informs Xander that now that the mission's over, the xXx program is being shut down. He realizes this means ALL agents are to be immediately terminated. She shoots Xander three times in the chest, and he collapses. She then radios her men on the ground to eliminate both Xander and Xiang's teams.

The two xXx teams then join forces, as they fire several hundred thousand rounds at the approaching CIA agents. Even Becky gets in on the action, clumsily shooting a few CIA grunts. Eventually the xXx teams run out of ammo and are surrounded.


Just when it looks like the two xXx teams will be executed, they're saved when Darius Stone (played by Ice Cube), appears in a rousing "audience cheer" moment. GASP! Stone, who was the hero of xXx: State Of The Union, blows up the attacking CIA agents, saying "X takes care of its own!". Hooray! Treason is hiLARious!

Back on the plane, Xander wakes up, revealing he was wearing body armor. He and Xiang join forces to defeat Donovan and his Special Forces goons. Donovan puts on Becky's bionic gloves and battles Xander in another big action setpiece. 

During the fight, the pilot is shot & killed, and the plane goes into a steep nosedive. In the resulting freefall, Xander, Xiang and the others fly around the plane like astronauts. Donovan punches a hole in the side of the plane (!), and Xander shoves him through it (without a parachute this time!). 

Meanwhile Marke uses a Pandora's Box to send a satellite crashing toward the warehouse, where the two xXx teams are. She's then about to shoot Xiang, but he notices that for some reason, her foot is caught in the loop of a parachute strap. He activates the chute, and she's yanked violently out the cargo hold. Xiang then jumps from the plane as well (with a chute, of course). 


Serena somehow knows a satellite is heading their way, and radios Xander. He regains control of the plane and steers it toward the incoming satellite. He jumps out just as the plane collides with the satellite in a fiery explosion.

Xander's troubles aren't over though, as he's falling with no chute. He sees a falling cargo crate in the distance, and zooms over to it. He activates the cargo crate's chute, and rides it safely to the ground. 

Xander and Serena kiss, and Darius pulls up in Xander's old car, as the two agents meet for the first time. The two separate xXx teams then decide to join forces, as they realize they're now considered outlaws by the U.S. government.


Annnnd cut to the entire team attending Gibbons' high profile funeral. During the funeral, Xander's approached by Gibbons (GASP!), who admits he faked his own death (again!). Gibbons is accompanied by Neymar Jr., who's apparently become an xXx agent. Gibbons tells Xander he's glad to see him back in action, and give him some sage advice: "Kick some ass, get the girl and try to look dope."

Thoughts: 
• There's really not much to say about xXx: Return Of Xander Cage. The movie's so over the top and ludicrous (in a good way) that nitpicking it would be pointless. As you would expect, I will strive to do my best though.

• At the very beginning of the movie, Gibbons tries to recruit Neymar Jr., as an xXx agent. Not being a fan of international football (aka soccer), I had no idea who the hell he was. Heck, I didn't even know he was supposed to be famous. I thought he was just some nondescript guy who wandered onto the set of the film.

I looked him up, and it turns out that Neymar da Silva Santos Jr. is a popular Brazilian football star who plays forward for FC Barcelona. And that's one to grow on!

So why the hell is Gibbons recruiting an internationally famous football player for his spy program? Aren't secret agents supposed to be anonymous? One would think celebrities would make poor spies.

By the way, Neymar Jr. says he's disappointed that Gibbons wants him for the xXx program, as he "thought he was being recruited for the Avengers." Haw! OK, I have to admit, that was pretty funny, and obviously a shoutout to Samuel L. Jackson's role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

One last thing about Neymar Jr. before we move on. At the end of the movie, Gibbons appears at his own funeral to have a chat with Xander. Neymar Jr. stands next to Gibbson the whole time, and they leave together. I was going to say that he must have decided to join the program after all, and now the CIA has an internationally famous secret agent. 

But wait a minute earlier in the movie the government told Marke they were shutting down the xXx program, and ordered her to eliminate all remaining agents. Either Gibbson secretly reopened the program, or Neymar Jr. is just hanging out with him for kicks (See what I did there? Kicks? Eh?). Is he Gibbons' houseboy now?

• When I first saw the trailer for this film, I laughed long and hard at the sight of Vin Diesel riding a skateboard. Diesel's FIFTY years old (as of 2017) and looks absolutely ridiculous as he flies down a steep hill on a board, in a desperate attempt to convince us he's twenty five at the most.

Fortunately this scene comes and goes pretty quickly, and the rest of the movie's not that bad. Vin Diesel's days as an action hero are definitely numbered though.

I honestly don't know which is worse: an aging action star who tries to act thirty years younger, or one who constantly whines "I'm gettin' too old for this sh*t" all through the movie.

• When we first see Xander Cage, he's living in the Dominican Republic with his girlfriend Lola. They have a brief sex scene, and that's the last we ever see of Lola! Xander's approached by the CIA about joining the xXx program and instantly leaves. Not even a goodbye scene with poor Lola, as she completely disappears from the movie.

Later Xander goes to London to see his informant Ainsley, and while he's there has an orgy with three of her friends. Apparently it didn't take long for him to get over Lola. 

I guess this is one more example of his xtreeeeme lifestyle!

• Earlier I mentioned the amazingly diverse cast of xXx: Return Of Xander Cage. Here's a rundown of all the main actors and where they're from:

Vin Diesel as Xander Cage: American
Donnie Yen as Xiang: Chinese from Hong Kong
Deepika Padukone as Serena Unger: Indian, born in Denmark
Kris Wu as Nicks: Chinese-Canadian
Ruby Rose as Adele Wolff: Australian
Tony Jaa as Talon: Thai
Nina Dobrev as Becky Clearidge: Bulgarian
Rory McCann as Tennyson Torch: Scottish
Toni Collette as Jane Marke: Australian
Samuel L. Jackson as Augustus Gibbons: American
Ice Cube as Darius Stone: American
Hermione Corfield as Ainsley: English
Tony Gonzalez as Paul Donovan: American
Michael Bisping as Hawk: English

• The McGuffin in this movie is the Pandora's Box, a piece of tech that can hack into any satellite orbiting the planet. Anyone possessing the Box could cause a satellite to hurtle toward the Earth like a bomb.


Hmm... why does that sound so familiar? Where have I heard of a device like that before? In a Bond movie? No, that's not right. One of the Jason Bourne films? The Mission: Impossible franchise?

Ah, I remember now. In Furious 7, Dominic Toretto, who just happens to be played by Vin Diesel, is approached by Mr. Nobody to steal the God's Eye. It's a device that can hack into orbiting satellites or any piece of tech with a camera, and allow the user to locate or track a person anywhere on Earth.

I'm sure it's just a coincidence that xXx: Return Of Xander Cage and Furious 7 both star Vin Diesel, and feature identical plots in which he has to find similar magical gizmos. Yep, totally coincidental.

• Man, Ruby Rose is having one hell of a year. In the past two months she's been in Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, John Wick: Chapter 2 and in this film. She's a busy gal!

Note that her biggest part is in this film. She's in Resident Evil for a grand total of about five minutes. She has a bigger part in John Wick, but plays a deaf mute assassin (?) and as such has absolutely zero lines.

• I don't understand why Tennyson Torch is so proud of his record of 198 crashes, and constantly brags about it. How is crashing 198 cars a good thing? Anyone could crash a car 198 times! That doesn't take any particular skill. 


Wouldn't it have made infinitely more sense if he had a record of 198 missions without a crash?

• Someone please, PLEASE, take Vin Diesel aside and tell him that his incredibly hideous coat with the massive fur collar is NOT a good look for him. Please.

Yeah, I know he wore it in the first movie, but it does not look cool, and it does not look xtreeeeme. It looks absolutely ridiculous. He looks like he just stepped out of The Revenant.

• When the C-5 plane nosedives, everyone on board experiences weightlessness and floats around the cabin (actually it's "free fall," but whatever). The movie actually got something right here, as this would actually happen in a steep dive. It's how NASA trains its astronauts to function in zero G. They use a plane, affectionately nicknamed the "Vomit Comet," to fly to the upper limits of the atmosphere and then dive almost straight down, giving the occupants a few seconds of simulated weightlessness.

In the real world, the Vomit Comet's period of free fall lasts around twenty five or thirty seconds before they have to level off. Here in the movie of course, the characters experience a good five minutes of weightlessness. Ah well.

• I know this is just a dumb action movie, but I don't understand how the DARPA bionic gloves are supposed to work. They're gauntlets that somehow enhance the wearer's strength, allowing one to punch through walls.

How the hell would that possibly work? It's just a fancy, high-tech glove! You can stuff all the bionics and circuitry you want into it, but it's still going to be limited by the user's strength. You'd need something that covered your entire arm, and probably your shoulder as well in order to increase punching power.

The only way these things could make you hit harder is if they had rockets on the back of them to propel your hand at the target faster.

• I never saw xXx: State Of The Union, but I'm aware of its existence and I know it starred O'Shea Jackson, er, I mean Ice Cube instead of Vin Diesel. So I was pleasantly surprised to see Cube's Darius Stone character make a surprise cameo appearance at a crucial moment in the film.

Unfortunately Stone's big reveal was ruined by one of the trailers, which contains pretty much his entire appearance in the film. Why the hell would they do this? Why would they release a trailer that spoils one of the few surprises in this movie? I feel bad for anyone who saw this ferkakta trailer and had their moviegoing experience ruined for them. Luckily for me I didn't see that particular trailer and was suitably surprised.

• After the plot's resolved, Xander tells the xXx agents that by refusing to hold still and let the government kill them, they've all gone rogue. From now on they're all wanted men and women, and the CIA will be looking for them.

So it only makes sense that the very next thing they'd do is attend Gibbons' funeral. A funeral for a government agent, which is likely being attended by numerous officials from various branches of the government, and is likely surrounded by hundreds of FBI, CIA and Secret Service agents. And yet Xander and his crew make absolutely no attempt at hiding their identities. Got it.

• Gibbons appears at his own funeral to give Xander some advice. This is the second time in the xXx franchise that he's faked his own death.

When he appears, we see he's now wearing glasses with a darkened left lens. I'm assuming this is another little nod to Nick Fury of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

xXx: Return Of Xander Cage is a ludicrous and over-the-top action movie, whose indestructible characters ignore the laws of physics as they search the globe for a high-tech weapon. Despite its ridiculous premise, I found myself actually kind of liking it. It ain't high art, but as big, dumb and loud action movies go, it's not bad. I give it a B-.

2 comments:

  1. I thought this would be a pile of turd but like you I have a soft spot for big and dumb and this one was big and dumb and beyond that - FUN. I am just as amazed as you that I like it as much as I did. THis is why I see movies in the first place. The twists were good and the action was top notch. Now I feel like watching a double bill of John Wick movies.

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  2. Yeah, I was all set to hate it, and was surprised at how much fun it was. I'm working on my John Wick 2 review. I love those movies too!

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