“xXx: The Return of Xander Cage” has set the bar for unapologetic schlock entertainment in 2017. Somehow this off-brand Fast and Furious makes Vin Diesel’s flagship franchise feel restrained, intelligent and believable by comparison.
Director D.J. Caruso’s charmless effort is completely devoid of personality, unless loud is a personality. After about 10 minutes of this sequel to 2002’s “xXx” and 2005’s “xXx: State of the Union” (which didn’t star Diesel), you feel like you might be in “so bad it’s good” territory, but about 10 minutes after that, the euphoria turns to abrasive tedium. This is just a bad movie.
“Return of Xander Cage” doesn’t have a plot so much as it has a loose excuse for absurd stunts, gunfire and eye-rolling dialogue. A doomsday device has been stolen, and the good guys need to get it back before the bad guys use it to start World War III. So the good guys recruit a middle-aged man on a skateboard (agent Xander Cage, played by an especially stoic Diesel) to do the job.
We meet Cage as he skis down a jungle mountainside on a quest to bring cable television to the impoverished masses. He’s draped in tattoos that look like they were drawn on with magic markers, though sometimes he covers them in a fur coat that would win him a starring role in any off-Broadway production of “The Lion King.” Soon after we meet Cage, he has a PG-13 orgy with a half-dozen obligatory bimbos, but later we get a scene of some token female leads shooting lots of bad guys set to cool music, lest anyone accuse Caruso’s film of being sexist.
Cage’s original handler, Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson), was killed by a satellite that plummeted out of orbit — yes, that is an authentic plot point — so now he has to deal with a humorless blonde played by Toni Collette. Collette is a fantastic actress, and her deadpan delivery here is mind-bending.
The thief, played by Donnie Yen, is Xiang, a martial arts specialist whose behavior is less believable than Yen’s last role in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” where he played a blind storm-trooper-clobbering wannabe Jedi Knight. Xiang and his crew live in a murky, torch-lit Philippines hideout full of club dancers that can only be described as “Apocalypse Wow!” After Cage and his obligatory band of snarky rogues crash the party, they find a plot twist that will drag the movie out for at least another hour.
By this point, it’s unlikely that anyone watching will still care about anything story-related. A movie this dumb should at least be fun, but after the first half-hour, “Return of Xander Cage” becomes an ordeal of bad one-liners, meaningless action and preposterous stunts. Good guys become bad guys and bad guys become good guys, but no one outside of the diehard franchise fan base will care, and the best way to describe the movie is ultimately found in bits of its own ridiculous dialogue:
“An atrocity that must be stopped.”
“We all have our embarrassing moments.”
If “xXx: Return of Xander Cage” was meant to get Diesel’s fans to appreciate the Fast and Furious films, it will have served a purpose. Outside of that, it’s just a motorcycle jet ski chase to nowhere.
“xXx: The Return of Xander Cage” is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of gun-play and violent action, and sexual material and language; running time: 107 minutes.