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xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage Movie Review

xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage Movie Review

Vin Diesel, the Fast and Furious star who spearheaded the first xXx flick all of a decade and a half ago, returns to fuel the third instalment of the franchise. He shouldn’t have bothered. What a monumental waste of firepower this! The propellants have lost their frisson, the gunpowder has gone soggy, and the ideas have gathered irremovable rust. Xander Cage, who was anyways given up for dead, should have stayed put wherever he was in hiding all these years. No matter what stunt the extreme sportsman-turned-secret agent pulls off, he cannot fire up this terribly shoddy actioner. The gravity-defying leaps, the jaw-dropping stunts, the guttural bon mots, and the dizzyingly fast cars and dirt bikes can at best provide cheap superficial thrills.  Genuine substance, notwithstanding all the grand talk of imperiled mankind being in desperate need of new soldiers to champion its cause, eludes xXx: The Return of Xander Cage. The film, to fulfil popular expectations, delivers unrelenting action, with Cage and his oddball cohorts taking shots at chasing a device that can remote control satellites to come crashing to earth and inflicting great damage to human life and property.  xXx: The Return of Xander Cage goes all over the world, literally – from Santo Domingo in Dominican Republic to Caramoan Islands in the Philippines via London and Detroit – with the aim of mining excitement in unlikely places. It finds none at all although ace cinematographer Russell Carpenter’s camera captures many an interesting view along the way. It certainly isn’t on the visuals that director D.J. Caruso is focused. The disorienting surround sound is what drives xXx 3. Watching this film is like sitting through a poorly executed video game that gives the players no real clues to what on earth is going on in the name of entertainment. If the film has been released in India a week ahead of its US opening, there is good reason. Deepika Padukone, in her first appearance in a Hollywood film, is a point of interest in this part of the world. Despite the unexplained heavily Indian accent, she holds her own as the badass Serena Unger, a woman of indeterminate nationality who gives as good as she gets. She, however, plays second fiddle to Diesel for the most part except for a scene in which the femme fatale proves that she is as quick on the draw as the invincible hero. As reward, in a climactic moment, Serena gets to plant a full-on kiss on the big man, thereby establishing her preeminence in this assemblage. Never before has a Bollywood diva played the female lead in a Hollywood film. For that fact alone, one might be tempted to go and check out xXx: The Return of Xander Cage. But be warned: while Deepika may not be mere arm candy here, she isn’t the fulcrum of the plot either.  That, in different ways, goes for the rest of the principal cast as well – Australia’s Toni Collette and Ruby Rose, Hong Kong’s Donnie Yen, Thailand’s Tony Jaa, China’s Kris Wu, Scotland’s Rory McCann and Canada’s Bulgarian-origin actress Nina Dobrev. When you are saddled with a script that is doomed to run on empty, you have to fall back on global star power, hoping that the actors from diverse cinematic constellations will have enough of a fan following in their respective backyards countries to ensure that the film does not end up in the red.  Each of these actors plays a character that stands by like a bunch of fidgety kids while Xander Cage peddles his standard wares. They are allowed to take centrestage ever so rarely when the male protagonist deigns to move aside to give them some leeway. But even when he does, it is at best for a fleeting moment. The film also has Samuel L Jackson reprising the role of NSA agent Augustus Gibbons – he is at the heart of two plot twists that bookend the action drama-and Brazilian football star Neymar Jr. (in his first acting assignment) and rapper Ice Cube (who played the lead in the underwhelming second xXx instalment, State of the Union). With so many of them reduced to huffing and puffing their way through a script that does not possess a whit of originality, the intrepid fictional saviours of the world make heavy weather of their mission to rid mankind of the mass fear psychosis that powerful governments capitalize on in order to control people. Yes, there is in xXx: The Return of Xander Cage much mumbo-jumbo about “slaves and despots”. It makes as much sense as characters who emerge in one piece no matter what hits them, thanks to their bulletproof vests, their indestructible cars and dirt bikes and their magical parachutes that open in the nick of time. If this numbing assault weren’t bad enough, xXx: Return of Xander Cage drops enough hints that this isn’t the end of the road. There might be another one on the way. What can one say to that? Run for cover!

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