xXx never quite hits the mark

By Thomas Simpson
Contributor

As we approach an eighth entry in The Fast and The Furious franchise, Paramount Pictures can be forgiven for resurrecting the xXx series that celebrates insane stunts and over the top indulgence. Unlike The Fast and The Furious there hasn’t been a xXx film since 2005 when Ice Cube bizarrely replaced Vin Diesel as the X Games James Bond. Deciding to ignore Cage’s reported death in the second film, Diesel is back in the driver’s seat for xXx: Return of Xander Cage.

When NSA Agent Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) is killed by a crashed satellite, the CIA discovers that this was a targeted attack using a device called Pandora’s Box which can control satellites and turn them into projectiles. When a group of skilled individuals led by Donnie Yen’s Xiang steal the box, CIA Agent Jane Marke (Toni Collette) tracks down Cage and convinces him to help her in returning the device. Cage agrees as long as he can recruit his own team as the filmmakers look to the success of the Fast and The Furious for inspiration.

xXx: Return of Xander Cage is an enjoyable action flick but it’s also fairly forgettable. The continued comparisons to Diesel’s other franchise are rammed down our throat but nothing is executed to the same standard. The stunts aren’t as impressive with Cage’s team having little to no chemistry. Ruby Rose’s Adele Wolff provides sultry danger as she flirts with more or less everyone while you’d question why anyone would feel an underground DJ is the a suitable choice for this mission (Kris Wu).

The set pieces are frantic and at times a confusing blur of CGI but the practical stunts should be commended. It’s here the action is most exciting which makes it even more criminal how underused Tony Jaa is. Donnie Yen isn’t, thankfully, and is granted enough time to showcase his skills at kicking ass involving a thrilling chase scene with Cage in pursuit.

Having two opposing groups eats up a lot of screen time which proves detrimental to the man of the hour, Xander Cage. Diesel doesn’t get much opportunity to shine as the plot focuses more on the xXx program and less of him as a returning hero. It’s clear the filmmakers are looking to kick-start a new series of films by cramming a franchise worth of players into the one film.

xXx: Return of Xander Cage tries to live up to The Fast and The Furious but only suffers by comparison. It lacks the charisma and charm of the latter and falls into the Warner Brothers/DC trap of dedicating a lot of screen time into putting the pieces in place for future installments. With The Fast and The Furious films really hitting their groove at the fifth try, maybe there’s hope for xXx if they can stay committed to a couple of more entries. For now though there’s better alternatives to get your adrenaline fueled kicks.

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