“Rock. Paper. Scissors. Grenade launcher.” Those are some of the essential power-play components in this badass action film. Vin Diesel, the lord of The Fast and the Furious franchise, has just upped the mojo of his spy-thriller xXx sagas to a high-adrenalin stratosphere that will take action-film junkies to the land of Nirvana. Fasten your seat belts.
Sinister folks have invented a devise called ‘Pandora’s Box.’ It’s about the size of a VHS tape cassette, but not nearly as benign. This deadly killing machine is capable of sabotaging satellites and forcing them to crash land on earth on a dime. Whatever they target and want blown up goes kaboom! As Jane Marke (Toni Collette), a government official who has the president on speed dial, leads a meeting of international higher ups explaining the problem, covert warriors break into the meeting room and steal the device. Then, they disappear like ghosts.
Marke needs help. She tracks down extreme athlete-turned-government operative Xander Cage (Diesel) on the island of Santo Domingo. He is reluctant to join her in her crusade until she mentions that one of the falling satellites killed his mentor Agent Augustus Eugene Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson), the now deceased leader of the xXx spy program. Cage is psyched to go on this revenge mission. He enlists the aide of Adele (Ruby Rose, Orange Is the New Black), a sexy, sharpshooting lesbian, Nicks (Kris Wu), a DJ who is a fighting machine and Tennyson Torch (Rory McCann), a getaway driver with a heavy foot. Call them the underground rave version of the CIA or MI6.
Cage and his crew of xXx foot soldiers are up against Xiang (Donnie Yen, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) a martial artist warrior, Serena (Deepika Padukone), a gun-wielding killer, and their deadly crew. The first encounter between the rebel spies and the mysterious insurgents, who have their own plans for ‘Pandora’s Box,’ takes both parties in an unfathomable direction.
If you are looking for a coherent, plausible script, look elsewhere. The task for screenwriter F. Scott Frazier was to come up with a framework that could support high-intensity, mind-blowing action scenes, and he did just that, nothing more. He chose international settings, created fiendish characters, developed an outline for crazy action scenes and made everything crescendo into an orgy of violence. He did his job.
Director D.J. Caruso (Disturbia) takes the reins, with a keen eye on pacing and a flair for staging action sequences that become pretty outlandish. Cage skiing down a rain forest slope is almost as wild as him chasing Xiang on a motorcycle that turns into a jet ski and finds him surfing through the barrel of a huge wave. At points, what he does resembles reality. Other times, he’s doing stuff that is simply infeasible. But who cares?
The music by Robert Lydecker and Brian Tyler comes with a thunderous base beat that erupts like a volcano. Imagine standing next to the speakers at a nightclub and almost going deaf. Millennials will eat the music up. Vince Filippone and Jim Page edit the footage down to a tight clip that is so fast you almost don’t notice Diesel’s stunt doubles as he glides down hills on a skateboard or some obvious CGI effects.
The Filipino base camp looks a bit like a cross between a luau and a Victoria’s Secret keg party with a color palette of tans and browns (Jon Billington, production designer; Erin Magill, Aleksandra Marinkovich and Ken Sinclair art directors). Kimberly A. Tillman gives Marke’s career woman costumes a postmodern look and the xXx gang wears a very simple array of clothes that add to their enigma.
Vin Diesel is a two-dimensional actor, which suits the action genre just fine. He is stealth, macho, self-assured, cocky and snarky. Which plays into the Cage character well. He ain’t your daddy’s Jason Bourne. Even when Frazier’s dialogue falls a bit flat, Diesel delivers it with attitude to spare. Padukone and Rose balance toughness and a sexy component well. Watching them stand back-to-back shooting up the bad guys who are coming from all directions is like watching a violent ballet. Yen and Wu are equally fun to view.
The cheeky dialogue, hard-to-imagine action sequences and daring extreme-sport exploits will have great appeal to young, hip moviegoers who are looking for an escapist film that is a cross between The Fast and the Furious and the very sardonic Deadpool.
It is written: Those who are looking for wall-to-wall giddy action scenes will come in throngs.
(Dwight Brown is a film critic and travel writer. As a film critic, he regularly attends international film festivals including Cannes, Sundance, Toronto and the American Black Film Festival. Read more movie reviews by Dwight Brown at DwightBrownInk.com.)