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
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