xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage Review

The first xXx came out back in 2002. I vaguely remember it; explosions, stunts and Vin Diesel in a fantastic fur coat. I know even less about the sequel xXx: State of The Union, save for that Xander Cage (Vin Diesel’s character) had apparently been killed off so instead Ice Cube was brought in to fill the gap. Now, fifteen years after he first starred in the role, Vin Diesel comes back for more extreme stunts.

xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage stars Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Tony Jaa, Deepika Padukone, Ruby Rose and Samuel L. Jackson and is directed by D.J. Caruso. The film follows extreme sports star Xander Cage (Diesel) as he is brought out of the retirement by the CIA to stop a rogue faction from destroying the world.

I’ve given the most blandest of synopsis I can, because this a film without a story. Oh sure, there is a lot of nonsense about crashing satellites and covert-government types, all interchangeable and doesn’t do much apart from set up to some crazy stunts. And really, I’m okay with that. So many films nowadays take themselves too seriously, it’s good now and again for a film that just leans right into the madness and has some fun to it.

Vin Diesel does his usual grumble-mumble and cute one-liners, no different from the fifty other Vin Diesel roles he has. It’s the newcomers that are the most interesting characters. Ruby Rose gets to show off her action chops while flipping the table of what an “action heroine” should be, Donnie Yen get’s to kick ass in his style but has an actual backstory and motivations, Deepika Padukone is a freedom fighter who is conflicted over how to achieve liberty, this is all cool stuff in an industry that just labels characters as “the Asian One”, “The Girl” and “The Other Girl.” Granted, the other actors; Tony Jaa, Rory McCann, Kris Wu and Michael Bisping don’t have much to them apart from a name and a one-line backstory, but it’s still an improvement over Hollywood.

The other major point I want to show off is how diverse the cast is. It’s cool to see these big actors from Chinese, Thai and Indian cinema get some major roles and screen time in an American blockbuster.

I was drawn to xXx 3 because I was promised action, and damn if it isn’t filled to brim with stunts. While there is noticeable instances of green screen, most of the action seems to be done for real. Even with the use of handheld cam, the action is bone-crunching and visceral. This is why you get Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa in; these guys know how to fight, how to pull off stunts and make it look good. The plot enables these top notch performers to just let loose, with Jaa having an excellent parkour-infused chase on a freeway, while Yen get’s to show off his martial arts in a six-on-one fight in the finale. The finale ratchets up the ridiculous to eleven, with zero-gravity plane rides and robot boxing gloves, but is it still filmed relatively well, not obscuring any of the over-the-top action.

The film has downsides. I’ve talked about the plot, it’s got so many holes and loops that there is no point trying to figure out how and why things happen. This is one of those “plot armour” situations, just go with it. The film does start pretty slow, with at least an hour before it becomes a full-on action fest, with only minor action sequences to tide us over. Also, near the beginning of the film there are so many navel shots and full-body pans, it’s just tasteless. Refreshingly the main female characters aren’t sexualised in any way, but there is still a romance sub-plot that comes out of nowhere.

In the end, I left xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage with a huge grin on my face. For those looking for some good action and fun characters, but zero plot, this is one for you. I wouldn’t mind seeing this one again.

Score: 7/10 Over-the-top fun for the action fans.

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Point Break Review

One of my favourite quotes on filmmaking is from director Jim Jarmusch; “Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels with your imagination.” While people might be quick to dismiss it, those who know their film history can argue the difference. We see this idea in thousands of celebrated films; Star Wars, Daniel Craig’s James Bond films and nearly all of Tarantino’s filmography. Sadly, it’s the same reason why shoddy remakes are made as well. What a coincidence then, that a remake of Point Break is out this week. How does it stack up against the original?

Point Break stars Edgar Ramirez, Luke Bracey, Ray Winstone and Teresa Palmer and is directed by Ericson Core. Based on the 1991 film of the same name, the film follows FBI Agent Johnny Utah (Bracey) as he goes undercover to stop a gang of extreme sports athletes from disrupting the world economy.

The script is atrocious. While the original had some moments of “surfer dude” talk about fighting against “the man” and “the system”, the remake just goes overboard, with every two seconds being filled with conversations about being “one with the earth” and “fear is the master, you are the slave”. It’s less of a script and more a collection of inspirational bumper stickers. The times when it isn’t the surfer dude mantra, is expository, leading to some hilariously bad lines. It feels like so much of an afterthought, I wouldn’t be surprised if the action scenes weren’t even shot for the film, instead a script and additional scenes were created after to get it into cinemas.

The action scenes were promising at first, but most are rather boring. The remake tries to one-up the original by staging several extreme sports; snowboarding, wing-suit gliding, base-jumping, free climbing, motocross and of course, surfing. They are linked together by something called the Osaki 8, a mythical set of eight ordeals to honour the forces of nature. This is obviously the films major selling point, and sure, it’s nice to see some breathtaking scenery, but even in what are supposed to be the high-octane scenes of the film, it falls flat. I’ve linked it back to the characters, we don’t care about them. We haven’t warmed to them so we aren’t bothered that they are coming so close to death. In fact they don’t care either. One of them dies half way through and literally after a ten second scene of mourning him, they are back to partying, drinking and having sex. It’s feels so absurd that I was shaking my head in disbelief.

It gets worse when the film tries to be Point Break though. There is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to the Ex-Presidents scene in the original, this time with Barack Obama, Vladamir Putin and George W. Bush instead of Reagan, Nixon, Johnson and Carter, and obviously the film ends with the 50-Year Storm wave. But the worst moment in the film is the re-enactment of, in the words of Nick Frost, “firing your gun up into the air while screaming argh” scene. Once I saw Utah pick up a gun, all I could think was, “Don’t do it, please don’t do it.” It’s ridiculous and out-of-place and really doesn’t make sense in the film. There is none of the bromance of Reeves and Swayze from the original, so it makes no sense for Utah to not just shoot Bodhi where he stands. I would actually be more lenient on the film if it wasn’t a Point Break remake. If it had changed a few of its characters and it’s story aspects then it could have been passably enjoyable. That’s how The Fast And The Furious started out and look how well that’s done.

The French director Jean-Luc Goddard once said: ‘It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.” Director Ericson Core has taken Point Break to the depths of cinema hell. Don’t waste your money, I’ve haven’t even seen Deadpool yet and I bet it’s more enjoyable.

Score: 2/10 Take the film out of the cinema and shove it down the toilet.

(I did go and see Deadpool and it was more entertaining. Read the review here).