Film Review: XXX: The Return of Xander Cage (USA, 2017) comes up short in nearly every aspect

“Kick some ass, get the girl, and try to look dope while doing it”

That inane piece of dialogue is essentially what xXx: The Return of Xander Cage bases its existence on. Never a film that was going to be considered good, but at the very least could have been fun, this useless threequel comes up short in nearly every aspect.

After opening with a mildly amusing sequence that offers everyone’s favourite franchise support player Samuel L. Jackson (returning as xXx program recruiter Augustus Gibbons) a chance to sprout nonsensical dialogue, it would appear that perhaps the filmmakers are aware of how ridiculous the next 100-or-so minutes are going to be by lacing the action on screen with its tongue firmly planted within its cheek; there’s even a neat wink to the audience with a sly Avengers reference. With director D.J. Caruso (Disturbia, Eagle Eye) and screenwriter F. Scott Frazier (who has the credit of “game evaluation team member” for the video game Tetris Evolution on his resume, so there’s that) seemingly in on the joke, you’d be forgiven for assuming Xander Cage’s return may, at the very least, be a bucket of throwaway popcorn fun.

How wrong you would be though. Lunacy and overblown hijinks are upped to the most preposterous of levels as our titular secret agent (Vin Diesel, all gravelly voiced and clueless on style) returns from self-imposed exile (his confirmed death in the film’s unnecessary predecessor xXx: State of the Union never given the slightest mention) to join the xXx program once more for another outlandish mission; something to do with a group of stealthy thieves who have stolen a piece of remote software that allows them the ability to control all the satellites orbiting the Earth. Without much convincing from program puppet master Marke (Toni Collette, in a serious case of WTF? casting), Xander assembles his own group of misfits (including the amusing-for-all-the-wrong-reasons Ruby Rose as a sharp shooter of sorts) to track down the villainous crew before they send satellites crashing down into any given populated area on Earth.

As Diesel does his best with sexy come-ons to Bollywood beauty Deepika Padukone (who, at the very least, can say she looks good in thigh-high leather attire) and defies the laws of gravity by skiing through the jungle, the likes of martial-arts experts Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa are tragically wasted as two of the lead villains whose skills as “actors” are given more screen time than their unique fighting ability. Perhaps the only cast member given material worthy of her is Nina Dobrev whose enthusiasm to be part of Diesel’s team is matched by her implied sexual curiosity; her safe word is “cumquat”.

I knew xXx: The Return of Xander Cage was going to be a laughable affair, but given that I had plenty of fun with the 2002 original and found mild enjoyment in the Diesel-less sequel (the aforementioned State of the Union) I thought that this third go around may still deliver on cheap thrills…well, at least I got my quota filled on the cheap end. The action scenes are perfunctory (and horrendously edited too), the film’s humour is more unintentional than intended and, as much as the end credits allude to how much fun the cast were having during filming, there’s a sense that no one truly cares about what’s going on.

Review Score: ONE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

XXX: The Return of Xander Cage is in cinemas now