Saturday, February 11, 2017

xXx 3: The Ego Has Landed

I was considering giving this a miss till it turned up on Netflix, but then How Did This Get Made? announced they were going to roast it, and now I feel like I have to get in front of this thing before its stupidity is spoiled for me.


I'll be honest. I only watched the first xXx for the first time in 2015, and I cannot remember a single thing about it. The trailers for this one looked awesomely bonkers, the cast looked good and you had DJ Caruso, a decent genre director, stepping in for Rob Cohen, one of the most incompetent mainstream filmmakers I have ever had to endure (his movies, I mean. I'm sure he's totally pleasant in person).
A kajillion years after his last mission, extreme sports dude Xander Cage is brought back into the fold after his boss Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) is assassinated. He is tasked with hunting down an elite team of daredevils who have stolen a MacGuffin that can do bad things. To accomplish Mission Extreme, Cage assembles his own team to take them down.

For the first 10-15 minutes, xXx 3 is the movie you thought the first movie was. Insane stunts, extreme sports, explosions and a bombastic monologue from Samuel L. Jackson (ending with another explosion).

My log line review of xXx 3 is that this is a movie marinating in its star's ego. Producer-star Diesel is smart enough to surround himself with an international cast ala his other franchise, but this is not an ensemble adventure. This is Vin+ rather than the Fast crew redux. From the movie's title through the action sequences and appalling one liners, everything in this movie is constructed as an edifice to the church of Diesel.

As director, DJ Caruso is a few steps above previous helmers Cohen and Lee Tamahori, and adds some style to proceedings -- the video game-style intros to Diesel's team are great -- but ultimately the movie lacks the wit and style Justin Lin brought to the Fast movies. He also commits the sin of over-cutting his action scenes -- a major shame considering the talents of Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa, whose showpiece moments are cut like confetti.

The big reason for the movie's leaden tone may be that the sandbox Lin and the other FnF directors had was bigger -- the group dynamic of Dominic Toretto's crew means there are plenty of characters to provide the humour and charisma that Diesel lacks. Here, it's the Vin-only show and the effect is considerably less interesting.

The film tries to present Cage as the ultimate badass, but this doesn't work when you have people like Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa doing their own stunts. Against their respective pedigrees, Diesel and his stunt doubles are nowhere near as compelling. It would help if there was any sense of self awareness or self-deprecation on Diesel's part, but no.

Scenes in which Cage seduces a squad of computer-hacking hotties, or physically matches Yen in a fist fight, are presented without any sense of irony. Cage is the best hero who ever lived, but he never does or says anything to warrant his inflated sense of self-importance. What makes it worse is that the entire movie is built like a homage to the original movie, but that would only work if the original movie was some kind of enduring classic that had left a mark on the genre. On that count, the movie's effect is deflated.

The rest of the cast are whatever. The actors who can act don't embarrass themselves, and the ones who can't make no impression whatsoever. International luminaries Deepika Padukone and Yen prove they're better than the material by actually committing decent performances. Toni Colette snarls her way through the movie as Diesel's new CIA foil, but it's hard to tell whether it's a character choice or the actress's own disdain for the material.

The movie tries to complicate its plot with a couple of obvious twists, and a few too many villains, but that's really not the reason to watch. The movie should be a collection of ridiculously extreme stunts, but outside of an opening number involving Cage skiing through the jungle, the movie's set pieces are a bit small scale and rather uninspired. The film's airplane-set finale is entertaining, but like the rest of the movie, it's not as cool as it thinks it is.

Ultimately, xXx 3 is not as good as Diesel's other franchise, and not really worth seeing in the theatre. Diesel's self-importance is good for a few laughs (his one-liners are awesomely terrible), and a few moments hit, but if you're looking for a dose of mindless escapism, you're better off waiting for Fast 8.

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