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xXx: The Return of Xander Cage

Arriving in the still-smouldering tire marks of 2001’s The Fast and The Furious, director Rob Cohen and star Vin Diesel treated audiences to yet more high-speed thrills and spills with the first xXx movie. Diesel played Xander Cage, an extreme sports junkie recruited against his will by the NSA to take down an underground Russian crime ring brilliantly dubbed ‘Anarchy 99’. The actor’s athletic prowess provided the opportunity to stage some thrilling action scenes – an unforgettable sequence has him riding off on a motorbike just as a building explodes in flames below him – and also made of Xander Cage an unconventional, modern special agent. His unorthodox methods, tattoos and considerable swagger made him the perfect protagonist for a modern spy movie send-up. An American POC James Bond with muscles who doesn’t takes himself or his ludicrous gadgets half as seriously as the British double agent, Cage seemed all but set up for his own franchise. But something went wrong. Despite the film’s moderate success, Diesel decided not to return for the 2005 sequel, xXx: State of the Union, and was subsequently replaced by Ice Cube. The film tanked and it’s taken 15 years for Diesel to pick up where he left off. Unfortunately, xXx: The Return of Xander Cage fails to recapture the winning formula of the original, opting instead for an Avengers-style team-up. Once again recruited by force, Cage this time demands to be joined by a bunch of outlaws like himself, each with their own special abilities, forming a clan he describes as “the good, the extreme, and the completely insane.” This weak riff on Sergio Leone’s classic western – just a little too pathetic to be endearing– sets the general tone for the film’s dialogue and humour, which runs the gamut from ‘that’s what she said’ to ‘your mum’. What we have here is a film that crudely apes the Fast & Furious movies, with each actor given a chance to shine but barely enough screen time for an...