Vin Diesel Aims His Skateboard Low With ‘xXx: Return Of Xander Cage’

01.20.17 2 years ago 2 Comments
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Paramount

Born into this world in 2002 as a studio executive’s wet dream, the extreme sports secret agent in xXx lives on as a skateboarding, BASE jumping, cool-guy anarchist for the people. In the third entry in the franchise, Vin Diesel uses a rocket pack to ski jump from the top of a satellite tower, while thumbing his nose at federal authorities, so he can bring an illegal stream of a soccer game to a shantytown of smiling children in the Dominican Republic. A tattooed 49-year-old man who busts tricks and pirates TV from the media company that pays his salary? That, my friend, is a hero of the modern era.

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage — which should have just gone all-in and called itself xXxxXxxXx — resurrects Diesel’s growly muscle-bro after Ice Cube had his go in the previous installment, way back in 2005. We now refer to that mid-2000s dark period as the Diesel Fumes, when the guy was also briefly out of the Fast & Furious spotlight and his third franchise, The Chronicles of Riddick, had just released a flop sequel. Now, of course, Diesel is at the top of his game, all for showing up on set, flashing that infectious grin and those superhuman pecs, and pretending to drive a fast car and/or steer a jet ski into a cresting wave. When he’s not doing those things, Nonuple X will be accompanied at your local cineplex by the tiny lightbulbs of bored teenagers’ phones. Maybe this is the kind of pairing with which Apple’s rumored new iOS “theater mode” would work best.

The plot? That’s a negative, agent. The CIA has a box, which they literally call “Pandora’s Box,” although in case that reference makes you have to think too much, rest assured “the nerds in the lab” were the ones who came up with it. A bunch of untraceable anti-government martial artists steal it, and now the suits (including Samuel L. Jackson in a brief appearance) pull Xander out of hiding to get it back. So he assembles a crack team of terrible actors, most of whom moonlight as real-life martial artists or pop singers, plus The Hound from Game of Thrones (Rory McCann). They’re essentially Fast & Furious also-rans, as is Xander himself, a character whose only distinguishing trait from F&F‘s Dom is his ridiculous fur coat. You can see Diesel, who’s also a producer here, planning the next decade of his ageless action-star career in the event he grows weary of his flagship franchise.

The more interesting characters (and cannier casting choices) are on the opposing side. Bollywood star Deepika Padukone plays Serena, a knife-wielding free spirit who falls for Xander; Thai martial artist Tony Jaa is hanging out as a bleached-blonde stunt grunt; and Hong Kong action hero Donnie Yen (recently seen doing a Zatoichi bit in Star Wars: Rogue One) is gang leader Xiang, who can melt hearts with a side-eye and a battle pose. No surprise, then, that soon all the cool people are on Xander’s side, magically giving the film box office prowess in key Asian territories. This leaves only Toni Collette’s CIA chief working against them, which is convenient, because as the only female cast member over 40, Collette was, of course, called on to play the frowny, humorless, dried-up woman. (Never mind that she’s five years younger than Diesel.)

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