You know how it goes: You can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need. And really, xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is arriving just as we absolutely need it. (Note: Please mind the preferred style little “x," big “X," little “x," which is used to in this instance to indicate extra extremeness.)
I’ll even go so far as to say I suspect the makers of xXx: TROXC may have somehow known what the outcome of the presidential election was going to be back when it was still in production, and they knew that we as a nation would need some sweet release from this day — and a reminder of one thing that really makes America great: blissfully brainless big-budget blockbusters.
xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is that. It’s a big, stupid movie that understands the golden rule of action movies in a post-Fast Five world: if you’re going to be a big, stupid movie you better damn well try and be the biggest, stupidest movie you can be. And while it fails to deliver the fun factor of that series, it’s still an entertaining dose of high-octane, purposefully low-brow escapism that makes the Fast and Furious films seem firmly grounded in reality.
xXx: The Return of Xander Cage doubles down on absurdity; it sees your "ramping a car off a bridge" and raises you "Vin Diesel skiing through the jungle.” And fighting absurdity with absurdity is exactly what I needed on a day like today. I went into the theater in a bad mood and left forgetting my worries, if for just a short while. xXx is a Red Bull-chugging, nipple-tattooed mental palate cleanser on a motorcycle ramping over the woes of reality.
After being replaced in the second xXx film by Ice Cube, Vin Diesel is back as Xander Cage, hater of sleeves and sayer of the word “suit” as an insult. He’s joined by and goes up against a team that includes the delightful blind kind-of Jedi guy from Rogue One (Donnie Yen), Game of Thrones' Sandor “The Hound” Clegane (Rory McCann), Ong-Bak bad-ass Tony Jaa, and a few other familiar faces as they try to save/destroy the world.
As an escape xXx is nice, but it’s far from perfect — shocker, I know. For all the mindless fun it delivers, it still suffers from being a pretty terrible film. The spine-jolting bumps that snatch some of the fun out of this rollercoaster attraction come thanks to editing that seems to have been done by a hamster on speed. The camerawork and jarring quick cuts feel as dated as xXx’s ink. If you were longing for Bourne Identity-era jumps that force a brain-strain to connect the dots between each second of footage, you’re in for a skateboard bomb down nostalgia hill. For everyone else, xXx: TROXC can be impossible to follow at times in the thick of the action. You’ll often be struggling to process the last (potentially?) cool thing you may or may not have just seen as another one comes flying your way. It's confusing at times and also a shame, as I feel we miss out on some of the insane and dazzling displays of physicality Yen and Jaa have to offer.
We also get some oversights that seem to have been left in as a joke they’re so blatantly bad. Scenes jump from sunny to rainy and midnight to midday within seconds.
xXx has little respect for the laws of physics, best practices in editing, or women: I don’t think a single female character was introduced without a slow body pan from hips to head. Sure, the movie and its cast are meant to be eye-candy, I get that, but a leering, lingering shot of someone’s crotch still feels a little icky.
Then again, if we’re focusing on what’s wrong with xXx, we're missing the bigger, dumber picture. You could fill a notebook taking inventory of all the missteps it makes and all the reasons xXx: The Return of Xander Cage doesn’t make sense — even compared to other similarly silly movies. I mean, dirt-bikes racing on the ocean? Can you believe this crap? True, the world of xXx, like our own, doesn’t make sense, but at least it’s over in about 90 minutes.
(Side note: You totally thought the motorcycles on the ocean bit was going to be the film’s climax, right? Turns out it’s only like half-way through the movie!)
Whatever your thoughts on the original xXx (and hopefully you haven’t spent too much time over the past 13 years pondering it), xXx: The Return of Xander Cage could be just what you’re looking for this weekend. You can walk into a dark room and forget about the dark place outside the theater doors. It might not be productive, but sometimes we all need a little reprieve from reality. The real world will still be there waiting when you're done — still as deeply flawed and heart-breaking and beautiful as it ever was.