XXX: Return of Xander Cage Is Candy

I remember the first time I watched XXX (2002) fondly. I was 8 years old when it first came out, a bit too young to see it in the theaters. I saw it sometime after on DVD in Joey Marx’s basement. I remember feeling like I was sneaking something. It’s rated PG-13, but it’s an edgy PG-13 for an 8 or 9 year old. My parents were never particularly strict about what movies I could and couldn’t watch, but I was unsure if I was supposed to see Vin Diesel coyly grumble, “The things I do for my country…” as an anonymous, thong-clad woman gave him a lap dance. While the cornball (and grossly misogynistic) sexy-times and violence seemed very adult at the time, in retrospect I was the perfect age to enjoy XXX. It’s a film tailor made for the 9-14 year-old boy demographic.

XXX: Return of Xander Cage successfully appeals to 9-year-old Sam. It recaptures B-movie magic. The plot isn’t that important, but I’ll give you the gist for some context… Xander Cage is re-recruited to be a secret government agent when his former boss Gibbons (Samuel L Jackson) is murdered by a falling satellite. Some bad guys have a device that can make satellites fall out of space and kill people. (Why are these films so obsessed with satellites? It’s always some device that ominously controls satellites. Pretty sure this is the MacGuffin in Furious 6 too.) Vin Diesel needs to track down the device and stop the people from using it to throw more satellites on people. That’s basically it.

Return also takes cues from that other, more successful Vin Diesel vehicle (pun intended), with varying success. It borrows the best of Fast and Furious’ reality bending action movie logic that borders on surrealism. This is very welcome. In worlds like these gravity is frivolous and literally any skill-set, if honed enough, is applicable to combat and espionage. Are you a great soccer player? You can fight bad guys. Can you ski and skateboard? Here’s your secret agent badge. Good at DJing? Of course that will come in handy when solving global terrorism crises. Another comic-bookish similarity: death means nothing. The short film The Final Chapter: The Death of Xander Cage’s confirmation of Vin Diesel’s death is unnecessarily explicit…they literally show the gory back-half of Xander’s head, iconic “XXX” tattoo and all. Presumably, someone was royally pissed Diesel refused to to XXX: State of the Union (2005) and decided to shut down any possibility of him returning. This did not work, because Xander and friends are immortal.

I can fill dozens of pages listing all the ridiculous stuff that happens in this film, but if I did Paramount might sue me for plagiarizing F. Scott Frazier’s screenplay. (Okay one more- At one point a character puts on robot hands to punch Vin Diesel.)

The less welcome elements borrowed from the latest Fast films include the structure. The original XXX is about a Xander Cage acting more or less as a reluctant lone-wolf. (Samuel L Jackson’s character literally uses reverse psychology to get him beat the bad guy.) The whole gimmick was that government trained spies weren’t edgy enough to infiltrate the bad guys gang, but the cool-guy extreme sports troublemaker they need is too cool to be cooperative. Return of Xander Cage ignores that in favor of the heist-film team model Fast and Furious has used for the past four entries. Vin Diesel calls on a gang of international gurus, each characterized by a gimmick of their own: a sharpshooter, the previously mentioned DJ, a stunt driver, and a techy-weapons person. Of course they need to face off against the villains team that vaguely mirrors their own. The film wastes time introducing the massive ensemble that it has no interest in exploring (nor should it). The laundry list of henchmen, good and evil, muddle the already too convoluted plot that they have absolutely no stake in (I’m pretty sure they’re just doing Vin Diesel a favor).

In the scheme of things, this is a minor squabble. If there were fewer characters and a clearer plot, it wouldn’t be the wonderfully trippy collage of nonsense that it is. The joy in XXX: Return of Xander Cage comes from the gibberish dialogue and otherworldly action set-pieces. The dissonance between the absurd cleverness of the one-liners and the whole-hearted confidence they are delivered with makes for comedy gold. How intentional the comedy is is unclear, which is the best kind of bad. (I like to think to think everyone involved is in on the joke except for Vin Diesel, but that’s just me).

XXX: Return of Xander Cage is a literal laugh a minute. Myself and the four people I watched with were belly laughing the entire time. This is a delicious and fulfilling ice cream sundae of a bad movie, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
I give this film 9 falling satellites out of 10 falling satellites.

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