Skip to main content

You can look dope, can’t you? Sure you can.

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage
(2017)

(SPOILERS) Is there a new “Vin Diesel model” for movie successes? The xXx franchise looked dead in the water after the Vin-less 2005 sequel grossed less than a third of its predecessor. If you were to go by the US total, xXx: The Return of Xander Cage was a similar flunk. And yet, a sequel is guaranteed. The key to this rehabilitation appears to be borrowing from the Fast & Furious franchise rule book (or the one operating since entry No.5, at any rate): bring on the international casting and sit Vin at the top as their leader. The only difference being, here Diesel is having appreciably more fun.


Which isn’t to say Xander Cage is better than the F&F movies, but it definitely has its tongue even more firmly in its cheek, to the extent you’d think Diesel has been scrutinising the Roger Moore Bonds for inspiration, along with classic era Bruce Willis for delivery (think Hudson Hawk, just not nearly as irreverent, alas). When xXx3 is revelling in its own inanity, it’s quite something to behold, and its only really during the final third, where it becomes a more standard-issue shoot ‘em up, one even the rapturous welcome Ice Cube’s “surprise” appearance receives can’t alleviate, that it stumbles.


So xXx3 made less than 20% - a measly 13%, to be exact – of its $346m total gross in the US but nearly half in China. Trace this backwards, and you have Fate of the Furious also taking less than 20% in the US but nearly a quarter of its $1.24bn total in China. Even The Last Witch Hunter, which no one is going to guarantee a sequel, followed the line of marginal US takings failing to reflect the international reception. The only regularly comparable franchise to this is the Resident Evil series, where you’d almost have been better off not releasing the last one Stateside (8% of the $312m, half of which came from China).


Diesel can reportedly be quite the pain in the ass on the Furious movies, but his willingness to engage in near send-up here is entirely to his credit, and if the picture adopts a nominal “family” tag with its “X takes care of its own” motto, it avoids becoming a noose around its neck. I only wish director DJ Caruso (showing versatile action chops) and screenwriter F Scott Frazier had thrown even more caution to the wind. The picture can never quite sustain the near meta-introduction in which Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L Jackson having a ball) explains to potential new recruit Neymar (“Thought he was being recruited for The Avengers” explains the on-screen introductory notes; Gibbons “Singlehandedly stopped World War III”) his entirely dappy reasons for beginning the XXX programme (skateboards and swimming pools figure heavily).


Xander Cage: Oh boy, here we go again.

The gags here are never in danger of becoming classy, but there’s a breezy-goofy quality to the set ups and delivery that is frequently irresistible; “Wow, you really do look different Gibbons. Did you lose weight?” asks the called-out-of-retirement Cage when he meets his new boss Jane Marke (Toni Collette, pitch perfect). This following an opening action spectacle in the aid of getting decent TV reception for a footie match. Xander next needs to stop off in London so he can pick up his hilariously over-sized sheepskin pimp coat, during which he outdoes Moore’s 007 by leaving a room full of sexually-satisfied ladies in his wake the next morning (“The things I do for my country”), even more amusing if you’re vaguely aware of the rumours that have followed Vin around Hollywood for the last two decades.


This bedroom dynamo rep continues with the arrival of a scene-stealing Nina Dobrev as Marke’s assistant Becky Clearidge, an unabashed Xander groupie (“Please take your time, I know mouth-to-mouth if necessary” grins the cheese-frothing chrome-dome, as Marke raises her eyes heavenwards) who isn’t immune to berating Cage when necessary (“That’s not going to come off, you know that, right?” she admonishes Xander when he applies permanent marker to a monitor screen). “There are a lot of unmarked graves on the island” Xiang (Donnie Yen) informs Cage, closing in on prized MacGuffin Pandora’s Box. “And I bet whoever sold you that shirt is in one of them” quips our tattooed hero.


If Vin’s on towering form, the rest of his co-stars are more variable. Yen’s having a lot of fun and has a good rapport with his lead. Ruby Rose (Adele Wolf) might not be quite as impactful as in her silent turn in John Wick Chapter 2, but she brings relish to her environmentalist sharpshooter. Deepika Padukone is Cage’s sort of love interest, but not in a limiting way, while Rory “The Hound” McCann is amusing as a stunt driver celebrating his 200th crash during the proceedings. Tony Jaa is suitably energetic in a bleach job, but Kris Wu is entirely lifeless. Likewise, while Neymar is surprisingly pretty good in his bookend scenes with Jackson, fellow football player Michael Bisping is definitely more from the Vinnie Jones school of acting chops.


Jane Marke: Time to be a patriot.
Xander Cage: By whose definition?

Caruso keeps the proceedings zipping along, although he’s probably better with the rhythmic interplay (a game of hot potato with a grenade for example) than the all-out, CGI-assisted action (Cage freefalling from an exploding Boeing is the most glaring example that this came in on a non-titanic budget). If xXx3 had played up its comedic side more, it had the potential to become a minor classic. As it is, it’s merely diverting. There’s a nice line in irreverence towards the powers-that-be that doesn’t go in for the (tiresome) Bond-ian resignation bullshit, taking in indifference towards national pride (above), insane government spending (“Wow, no wonder our country’s in debt trillions of dollars” observes Cage of a decked-out Boeing) and conspiracy theories (“Can you tell me what really happened to Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie?” Asks McCann’s Torch. “Yes” replies Becky).


I’m not sure how well Vin and Cube will get on for xXxX (hopefully better than Vin and Dwayne), since they didn’t exactly seem to have natural chemistry during their scenes here, but anything pushing towards ever-greater absurdity is good in my book, particularly when we had to rely mostly on the Stat for that fix in the slightly disappointing Furious 8.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Mondo bizarro. No offence man, but you’re in way over your head.

The X-Files 8.7: Via Negativa I wasn’t as down on the last couple of seasons of The X-Files as most seemed to be. For me, the mythology arc walked off a cliff somewhere around the first movie, with only the occasional glimmer of something worthwhile after that. So the fact that the show was tripping over itself with super soldiers and Mulder’s abduction/his and Scully’s baby (although we all now know it wasn’t, sheesh ), anything to stretch itself beyond breaking point in the vain hope viewers would carry on dangling, didn’t really make much odds. Of course, it finally snapped with the wretched main arc when the show returned, although the writing was truly on the wall with Season 9 finale The Truth . For the most part, though, I found 8 and 9 more watchable than, say 5 or 7. They came up with their fair share of engaging standalones, one of which I remembered to be Via Negativa .

Isn’t it true, it’s easier to be a holy man on the top of a mountain?

The Razor’s Edge (1984) (SPOILERS) I’d hadn’t so much a hankering as an idle interest in finally getting round to seeing Bill Murray’s passion project. Partly because it seemed like such an odd fit. And partly because passion isn’t something you tend to associate with any Murray movie project, involving as it usually does laidback deadpan. Murray, at nigh-on peak fame – only cemented by the movie he agreed to make to make this movie – embarks on a serious-acting-chops dramatic project, an adaptation of W Somerset Maugham’s story of one man’s journey of spiritual self-discovery. It should at least be interesting, shouldn’t it? A real curio? Alas, not. The Razor’s Edge is desperately turgid.

You have done well to keep so much hair, when so many’s after it.

Jeremiah Johnson (1972) (SPOILERS) Hitherto, I was most familiar with Jeremiah Johnson in the form of a popular animated gif of beardy Robert Redford smiling and nodding in slow zoom close up (a moment that is every bit as cheesy in the film as it is in the gif). For whatever reason, I hadn’t mustered the enthusiasm to check out the 1970s’ The Revenant until now (well, beard-wise, at any rate). It’s easy to distinguish the different personalities at work in the movie. The John Milius one – the (mythic) man against the mythic landscape; the likeably accentuated, semi-poetic dialogue – versus the more naturalistic approach favoured by director Sydney Pollack and star Redford. The fusion of the two makes for a very watchable, if undeniably languorous picture. It was evidently an influence on Dances with Wolves in some respects, although that Best Picture Oscar winner is at greater pains to summon a more sensitive portrayal of Native Americans (and thus, perversely, at times a more patr

Schnell, you stinkers! Come on, raus!

Private’s Progress (1956) (SPOILERS) Truth be told, there’s good reason sequel I’m Alright Jack reaps the raves – it is, after all, razor sharp and entirely focussed in its satire – but Private’s Progress is no slouch either. In some respects, it makes for an easy bedfellow with such wartime larks as Norman Wisdom’s The Square Peg (one of the slapstick funny man’s better vehicles). But it’s also, typically of the Boulting Brothers’ unsentimental disposition, utterly remorseless in rebuffing any notions of romantic wartime heroism, nobility and fighting the good fight. Everyone in the British Army is entirely cynical, or terrified, or an idiot.

It’s not as if she were a… maniac, a raving thing.

Psycho (1960) (SPOILERS) One of cinema’s most feted and most studied texts, and for good reason. Even if the worthier and more literate psycho movie of that year is Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom . One effectively ended a prolific director’s career and the other made its maker more in demand than ever, even if he too would discover he had peaked with his populist fear flick. Pretty much all the criticism and praise of Psycho is entirely valid. It remains a marvellously effective low-budget shocker, one peppered with superb performances and masterful staging. It’s also fairly rudimentary in tone, character and psychology. But those negative elements remain irrelevant to its overall power.

My Doggett would have called that crazy.

The X-Files 9.4: 4-D I get the impression no one much liked Agent Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish), but I felt, for all the sub-Counsellor Troi, empath twiddling that dogged her characterisation, she was a mostly positive addition to the series’ last two years (of its main run). Undoubtedly, pairing her with Doggett, in anticipation of Gillian Anderson exiting just as David Duchovny had – you rewatch these seasons and you wonder where her head was at in hanging on – made for aggressively facile gender-swapped conflict positions on any given assignment. And generally, I’d have been more interested in seeing how two individuals sympathetic to the cause – her and Mulder – might have got on. Nevertheless, in an episode like 4-D you get her character, and Doggett’s, at probably their best mutual showing.

You’re a disgrace, sir... Weren’t you at Harrow?

Our Man in Marrakesh aka Bang! Bang! You’re Dead (1966) (SPOILERS) I hadn’t seen this one in more than three decades, and I had in mind that it was a decent spy spoof, well populated with a selection of stalwart British character actors in supporting roles. Well, I had the last bit right. I wasn’t aware this came from the stable of producer Harry Alan Towers, less still of his pedigree, or lack thereof, as a sort of British Roger Corman (he tried his hand at Star Wars with The Shape of Things to Come and Conan the Barbarian with Gor , for example). More legitimately, if you wish to call it that, he was responsible for the Christopher Lee Fu Manchu flicks. Our Man in Marrakesh – riffing overtly on Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana in title – seems to have in mind the then popular spy genre and its burgeoning spoofs, but it’s unsure which it is; too lightweight to work as a thriller and too light on laughs to elicit a chuckle.

I tell you, it saw me! The hanged man’s asphyx saw me!

The Asphyx (1972) (SPOILERS) There was such a welter of British horror from the mid 60s to mid 70s, even leaving aside the Hammers and Amicuses, that it’s easy to lose track of them in the shuffle. This one, the sole directorial effort of Peter Newbrook (a cameraman for David Lean, then a cinematographer), has a strong premise and a decent cast, but it stumbles somewhat when it comes to taking that premise any place interesting. On the plus side, it largely eschews the grue. On the minus, directing clearly wasn’t Newbrook’s forte, and even aided by industry stalwart cinematographer Freddie Young (also a go-to for Lean), The Aspyhx is stylistically rather flat.

The best thing in the world for the inside of a man or a woman is the outside of a horse.

Marnie (1964) (SPOILERS) Hitch in a creative ditch. If you’ve read my Vertigo review, you’ll know I admired rather than really liked the picture many fete as his greatest work. Marnie is, in many ways, a redux, in the way De Palma kept repeating himself in the early 80s only significantly less delirious and… well, compelling. While Marnie succeeds in commanding the attention fitfully, it’s usually for the wrong reasons. And Hitch, digging his heels in as he strives to fashion a star against public disinterest – he failed to persuade Grace Kelly out of retirement for Marnie Rutland – comes entirely adrift with his leads.

You know what I sometimes wish? I sometimes wish I were ordinary like you. Ordinary and dead like all the others.

Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964) (SPOILERS) Bryan Forbes’ adaptation of Mark McShane’s 1961’s novel has been much acclaimed. It boasts a distinctive storyline and effective performances from its leads, accompanied by effective black-and-white cinematography from Gerry Turpin and a suitably atmospheric score from John Barry. I’m not sure Forbes makes the most of the material, however, as he underlines Séance on a Wet Afternoon ’s inherently theatrical qualities at the expense of its filmic potential.