XXX, all flash and no substance

Tinashe Kusema The Big & Small Screen —
“XXX-The Return of Xander Cage”, has everything we have come to expect from a Vin Diesel movie — lots of CGI, exceptional stunt work, car chases, fist fights and plenty of beautiful women.

Put together, all these things make for fun and entertaining films, but in the real world it is just “all flash and no substance”.

At most, you are likely to get entertained for roughly 107 minutes of its running time, but discard it and never give it a second look.

Now, that is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, I have never uttered the words “commanding performance”, or called any of his productions a “classic”.

Context is the operative word when reviewing any of Diesel’s works and put in his proper category, Vin Diesel is an “exceptional filmmaker”.

He knows what he has to offer, knows what his audience wants from him and 99 percent of the time, he delivers the goods.

Viewed in its proper context, Diesel’s latest production, “XXX-The Return of Xander Cage”, is a fun and entertaining film.  The film picks on 11 years after the very first film, “XXX”, with adrenaline junkie-turned super spy, Xander Cage now living the high life in the Dominican Republic.

When four highly skilled individuals, led by the incomparable Donnie Yen, steal a special device called Pandora’s Box, which has the capabilities of hacking any satellite orbiting earth, the National Security Agency (NSA) tracks down Cage to track down, infiltrate and stop these mercenaries.

While initially reluctant to work for the “Man” again, Cage finally agrees when he discovers that friend and former boss Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) was killed by the very same machine that the NSA are trying to retrieve.

Cage then enlists his own crew namely — Adele (Ruby Rose), DJ (Kris Wu) and Tennyson “The Wolf” (Rory McCann) — to help stop this gadget from falling into the wrong hands.

Now, I would like to start by highlighting one of my biggest takeaways for this movie. I get that it is a spy movie and with that comes some cool code-names and nicknames but names like Talon (Tony Jaa), Tennyson “The Torch”, Pandora’s Box and a whole host of other names are just too ridiculous and cliché.

The award for the most ridiculous catchphrase in the movie goes to Samuel L. Jackson’s “let me simplify it, kick some sh*t, get the girl and try to look dope while you do it”.

I think Samuel L. Jackson is way too old to pull off something like that, and Diesel’s “I can definitely make that work” retort does not really help matters.

If fact, it actually makes this little exchange, found at the end of the movie and as the major highlight of the trailer, arguably one the most cringe-worthy and roll-your-eyes-to-the-back-of- your-head dialogues I have ever heard.

Such lame dialogues that characterised this film. But like I mentioned earlier, it is also a fun and entertaining movie.

The performances are a little over the top as Diesel fails tremendously to channel his inner James Bond and comes off looking more like Austin Powers. The supporting cast, and litter of cameos, are arguably one of the film’s few highlights.

Unfortunately, the film’s marketing strategy ruined most of the film’s big shock and awe moments through the trailers. If you have seen the numerous trailers, you are likely to have seen that Neymar, Ice Cube and Samuel L. Jackson are in the movie. All three ruined their 15-seconds of fame by overacting, in the case of Jackson and Cube, and just plain old horrible in the case of Barcelona and Brazilian star, Neymar.

Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa are two of my favourite martial arts experts, and in that department they deliver the goods ten-fold. It is a shame the same cannot be said about their acting skills, in this movie, as Yen spends most of time eating up the scenery, showing off and over-acting.

Jaa’s Michael Jackson impersonations are terrible and when he is not dancing horribly, he is acting like a guy hopped up on drugs. Did I mention that the film is fun and entertaining?

The trio of Rose, Nina Dobrev and Deepika Padukone emerge as the film’s brightest points. Unlike most action-packed spy movies, which usually portray women as nothing more than eye-candy, I found it refreshing that the film went to great lengths to show them in a more positive light.

Padukone, one of India’s biggest film exports, and new kid on the block Ruby Rose, hold their own as strong and independent women.

Together with Dobrev, whose main contribution is to provide comic relief, these three are given ample screen time, solid character development and plenty of room to show a stronger and deadly side.

Their montage, during which they shoot their way through a group of bad guys, is an early frontrunner for my favourite scene of 2017.

Their contribution is given much more weight given the fact that they share screen time with the likes of Yen, Jaa and Diesel and really hold their own. Dobrev is totally outside her element in this more comic role but surprisingly does it well. Her comic timing, verbal and physical comedy is really funny.

The stunt work, CGI, fight scenes and car chases are really good and makes it easy to forget that this film basically has a very weak storyline.

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