XXX: RE­TURN OF XANDER CAGE

★★★★★ FROM MAY / DI­REC­TOR D.J. Caruso / CAST Vin Diesel, Don­nie Yen, Deepika Padukone, Kris Wu, Ruby Rose, Tony Jaa, Toni Col­lette, Sa­muel L. Jack­son X-tremely bone­headed

Empire (Australasia) - - Re.view -

THE THIRD IN­STAL­MENT in the Triple-x fran­chise forces you to sus­pend dis­be­lief more thor­oughly than if you caught dis­be­lief plant­ing cherry bombs in the teacher’s lounge bath­room. Vin Diesel is back as ag­ing hell­raiser Xander Cage (it’s been 15 years since the first XXX, and 12 years since the sec­ond, which starred Ice Cube in place of Diesel; at 49, Diesel is test­ing cred­i­bil­ity as a rad­i­cal cow­abunga dude). Toni Col­lette (sleep­walk­ing through most of her scenes, act­ing mostly via dead­pan and eye­rolls) takes over most of the govern­ment han­dler du­ties from Sa­muel L Jack­son.

CIA hard­case Marke (Col­lette) turns to Cage to track down a ter­ror­ist group us­ing a “Pan­dora’s box” to weaponise or­bit­ing satel­lites. Cage as­sem­bles a team of out­casts to do what the straight-laced govern­ment operatives can­not.

If the first XXX was “James Bond with tat­toos”, it’s now be­come “Austin Powers with­out self-aware­ness”. Watch­ing one fe­male char­ac­ter lit­er­ally have a panic at­tack over how much she wants to have sex with Vin Diesel seems like satire, ex­cept it’s not. It’s just teen hor­mones on steroids. And lis­ten­ing to Diesel rum­ble in his tec­tonic-deep voice about snow­board­ing “with an avalanche on your ass” seems like X-games talk writ­ten by some­one who’s never played any­thing more ex­treme than ten­nis. In fact, there’s not as many stunts as you’d ex­pect: there’s a lot more talk­ing about how rad­i­cal they all are, than ac­tu­ally be­ing rad­i­cal. The open­ing stunt is pleas­ingly de­ranged, and will take Aus­tralians of a cer­tain vin­tage back to an old Solo TV ad; but then it’s a long time be­tween adren­a­line rushes.

Cage’s mo­ti­va­tion is less be­liev­able this time: where he was ba­si­cally black­mailed in the first movie (“be­come a se­cret agent or go to jail”), this time around it goes like this: “I’m too much of a non-con­form­ist rebel to work for the govern­ment.” “Pretty please?” “Okay I’ll do it.” As Xander as­sem­bles a team of mis­fits, it feels like the film­mak­ers are try­ing to en­gi­neer their own Fast and Fu­ri­ous fran­chise, bor­row­ing from bet­ter ac­tion movies as they go, with homages (to put it nicely) to ev­ery­thing from Point Break to True Lies, with more than a cou­ple of lifts from the Bond se­ries. But it’s bone-headed to the point of oc­ca­sion­ally be­ing faintly em­bar­rass­ing — like Xander re­fus­ing to work with a team of mil­i­tary spe­cial ops sol­diers be­cause none of them has ever done a back­flip on a BMX (this re­ally hap­pens), in favour of a DJ whose spe­cial-agent skill is… Djing. He solves prob­lems by mak­ing the crowd go nuts with his Djing prow­ess. (This also re­ally hap­pens.) It’s al­most too stupid to en­joy, but over­all man­ages to stay just on the right side of fun. RICH YEAGER

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