I should put in for worker’s comp for the extensive injuries I sustained watching the insulting, abysmal 3-D action thriller xXx: Return of Xander Cage, which left me deeply traumatized and suffering from injuries to my eardrums, my eyes, my mind, my soul, my aesthetic sensibility, and my sense of decency.
A shameless, empty-headed, and repetitious heap of remarkably tedious CGI-enhanced action scenes slapped together by the otherwise reliable sci-fi and horror director D.J. Caruso (Disturbia, The Disappointments Room), xXx: Return of Xander Cage is the third film in the Vin Diesel-powered xXx franchise about espionage and international terrorism.
The series features the 49-year-old action figure as Xander Cage, an adrenaline-addled extreme-sports fanatic who is recruited by the National Security Agency to foil the dastardly conspiracies of anti-American evildoers. Once he kicks the bad guys where it really hurts, Cage goes back to his regular life, which he spends pulling off one absurd stunt after another to post online for his adoring fans.
This time around, Cage is called into action when he learns that his NSA handler and friend Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) has been assassinated – and in a most unusual way. It seems someone knocked a spy satellite out of orbit and directed it to fall through the sky all the way down from the great blue yonder down, down, down and splat right on Gibbons’ noggin.
It seems someone has stolen one of the government’s most powerful weapons, a device that allows you to control dozens of spy satellites. The device is portable and very easy to use – it looks identical to the toner cartridge from a standard desktop computer printer.
Toni Collette phones in a flat performance as Gibbons’ replacement Jane Marke, who tasks Cage and his xXx team to recover the toner cartridge. Acclaimed Bollywood leading lady Deepika Padukone also is wasted in a role as Diesel’s love interest.
We all know this isn’t supposed to be great drama. It’s an action film. But here again, Caruso’s film fails spectacularly, despite the fact that it costars two of the most accomplished martial artists/choreographers in the world – Hong Kong superstar Donnie Yen and Thailand’s renowned Tony Jaa.
Instead of showing the hand-to-hand combat from a distance, which allows the viewer to appreciate the fighters’ skill, Caruso covers up the weak choreography by filling the screen with a rapidly cut montage of hands, arms, feet, and faces in extreme close-up.
When fists and bullets aren't flying, the film offers pretty landscapes, beaches, and nightclubs filled to the rafters with half-naked women rubbing up against gun-toting dudes. Other scenes look like runway shows as men and women in elegant designer attire march up and down the screen. When called upon to shoot or punch, they do so while striking the most ludicrous fashion-magazine poses.
I have never seen a film so desperate not to be a film.
Instead of dialogue, we have monosyllabic grunts. Instead of story, we have never-ending gun fights, car chases, crashes, and explosions. And instead of actual suspense and dramatic tension, we get an incessant sonic blast wave of fast-tempo rock, rap, and R&B music. Every single scene has unbearably loud wall-to-wall music. In fact, xXx: Return of Xander Cage is probably best described as a collection of about 15 to 20 loosely related music videos.
It’s easy to see why: Filmmakers were obviously dead scared that if they allowed viewers one minute’s worth of quiet reflection, we’d realize we were watching utter trash.