“xXx: Return of Xander Cage”
Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sexuality, profanity and pervasive violence
Running time: 107 minutes
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
When it was released back in 2002, xXx grossed over a quarter-billion dollars worldwide in theaters alone. The visually-captivating espionage adventure starring Vin Diesel was reminiscent of James Bond, except it featured a hunkier hero and more spectacular stunts and special effects.
The high-octane thriller so overshadowed the relatively-mundane “Die Another Day” that year that Pierce Brosnan would soon be replaced by Daniel Craig as 007. Ironically, Vin Diesel was also replaced by Ice Cube in “xXx 2,” a drismal sequel that bombed at the box office, leaving a once-promising franchise on life support.
It’s taken a decade and a half, but Vin is finally reprising the role he originated. The good news is that the picture arrives laced with the sort of death-defying feats that made the first xXx such a hit. That means a plethora of action sequences in which our superhuman protagonist proves impervious to bullets and the laws of gravity.
There are also tons of the trademark titillation, coming courtesy of both Vin’s beefcake and a bevy of adoring beauties. Directed by D.J. Caruso (Disturbia), “xXx: Return of Xander Cage” even tips its hat to earlier episodes via cameos by Samuel L. Jackson and Ice Cube.
At the point of departure, we find Xander living under the radar in self-imposed exile in Latin America. He’s still an extreme sports enthusiast, and just for fun skis across the treetops of a verdant rain forest before switching to a skateboard for an equally-breathtaking ride down a winding mountainside highway.
Next thing you know, he’s being coaxed out of retirement by a CIA chief (Toni Collette) to keep the world safe for democracy. The mission involves retrieving a devastating weapon of mass destruction code-named “Pandora’s Box” that’s fallen into the hands of a gang of daredevils led by a diabolical trio (Donnie Yen, Tony Jaa and Deepika Padukone) bent on world domination.
After jettisoning a standard-issue, U.S. military support team, Xander recruits a motley crew of renegades more in his own image. Can that rag-tag posse, composed of a crack sniper (Ruby Rose), a fearless getaway driver (Rory McCann), a state-of-the-art gadget wizard (Nina Dobrev) and an affable DJ/ jack-of-all-trades (Kris Wu), rise to the occasion?
Why not? Anything is possible, with cartoon physics on your side!