xXx: Return of Xander Cage (2017) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
24Jul/170

xXx: Return of Xander Cage (2017)

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Xander Cage is dead - or so he'd like the world to think.  He went into hiding after his adventure over a decade ago, but circumstances surrounding a NSA tool gone rogue lead to government agents tracking him down to put him back into action.  D.J. Caruso directs xXx: Return of Xander Cage, with the screenplay written by F. Scott Frazier, and stars Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, and Ruby Rose.

Masterclass director Robert Altman made movies that demanded the audience's attention.  He didn't have much patience for the folks who needed to check their watch or refresh their drinks at the concession stand.  Either you were there to watch the movie, or you weren't, and he made movies for folks in the former group with his multiple tight plot threads and intricately webbed dialogue.

You do not need to have the same severe dedication to enjoy xXx: Return of Xander Cage (Return of Xander Cage moving forward) - but to get the most out of it you better do what I did and pay the kind of strict attention that would make Altman proud.  The action in Return of Xander Cage has all the escalation we've come to expect after a solid decade of superhuman clashes or skyscraper car chases.  Director D.J. Caruso doesn't go for the slow build that's bloated those other movies to 2 hour+ run-times.  Return of Xander Cage is the kind of action flick where if you look down, even for a second to take notes, the action will have shifted from a bar fight to motorcycles equipped with skis.  The big kicker?  It all makes sense.

I'm not sure this is the most stable setup for sniping but it's damn cool to watch.

I'm talking sense in the scale of Return of Xander Cage, which means it's all absurd, but the escalation flows so beautifully I dropped my jaw in awe of the controlled chaos.  Maybe you're wondering just how the motorcycle that sprouts skis to allow Xander (Vin Diesel) to chase Xiang (Donnie Yen) over the ocean makes any kind of sense.  It's because our reintroduction to Xander comes equipped with a scene where he's performing dangerous stunts like dropping from a tower on skis to traverse concrete and grind on trees in extreme close up.  If that didn't convince me Xander was equipped to use skis on anything, nothing was going to.

So I went with it.  If you're different from me and start questioning the physical possibility of Xander skiing off trees then catching a skateboard ride alongside fast cars, then Return of Xander Cage probably won't be your cup of tea.  But you'd miss the love Diesel brings to the franchise, of which he's now a producer, and the insert shots of the grandmother's and grandfather's living in Xander's corner of the Dominican Republic whose beaming smiles bring warmth to the screen while keeping Xander's spirits up.  Well known supernerd Vin Diesel gets to play Superman without the tights, getting his energy from the happiness he inspires instead of the hope he brings.

That sound heavy?  It's not, and truth be told that kind of weight is better served by Diesel's other huge franchise.  By the time Xander and Xiang are playing a dangerous game of hot potato with Serena (Deepika Padukone) and an ever-increasing number of live grenades, it's clear the talent behind the camera is more interested in an action-packed cartoon than any kind of pretension to honor.  Caruso keeps the action moving at a tight clip, tossing in factoids like baseball cards for the members of Xander's team (my favorite - "Thought he was being recruited for the Avengers"), and inspiring the performers to say dialogue like, "They say it's the last great adventure Cage - be sure to send a post card," as though their dramatic career was on the line.

How does this still work fifteen years later?  When the first xXx came out the novelty of x-treme sports and gratuitous '90s advertising had been quelled by 9/11, and the Ice Cube-led sequel State of the Union catapulted a tank into my heart but didn't exactly blow up the box office.  The key is Diesel, who is having so much fun arranging the particulars of Xander's A-Team that we remember he's a one-of-a-kind quirky gem of a performer outside "stoic honor-bound muscle guy" (see Billy Lynn's Long Half-Time Walk for another side of this.)  Backing him up is Caruso's steady clip and some of the greatest score-to-soundtrack transitions I've heard this year courtesy of Brian Tyler and Robert Lydecker.  Normally I write with little concern to spoilers, but one soundtrack cue is so on-point and accompanied by an on-screen surprise I squealed at my rental in delight.

I say this with all the franchise fatigue in Hollywood weighing down my heart - give Deepika Padukone and Ruby Rose their own spinoff please and thank you.

All my love for Return of Xander Cage is still very much a product of its "women as sexy background generation" origins.  Caruso and Diesel have fun with Xander's past by pushing his sex appeal to such an absurd limit he literally has what looks to be a 10-way night of sex early in on, while nothing else achieves the same level of self-knowing satire.  I'm exhausted with the seemingly endless shots of bikinis and midriffs in the middle stretch of Return of Xander Cage.  Though the crew does redeem themselves somewhat by giving Padkone and Ruby Rose a stretch of action that's as fun as anything else I'm likely to see this year.

Against most odds, returning to a franchise whose last flick was twelve years ago, Return of Xander Cage manages a near miracle in being one of the best movies I've seen this year.  Audience members can, and perhaps should, take issue with the way the xXx franchise refuses to let go of the kind of gratuitous bikini eye candy in movies making room for heavy-hitters like Padkone and Rose.  I love Return of Xander Cage and am up for chatting about these flaws because simultaneous leaps forward are worth the conversation about the steps left behind.

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xXx: Return of Xander Cage (2017)

Directed by D.J. Caruso.
Screenplay written by F. Scott Frazier
Starring Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, and Ruby Rose.

Posted by Andrew

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