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REVIEW: ‘xXx’ flick every bit as silly and ridiculous as it needs to be

The Art of Nerding Out

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There’s a scene early on in “xXx: The Return of Xander Cage” where the title character (played by Vin Diesel) plummets from a communications tower, with a set of skis breaking his fall. I’m not a super genius, but I know enough to know that kind of impact would send Xander’s shin bones shooting out through his knees. But it doesn’t, because the movie’s working on “movie physics”. And I don’t really mind. In fact, I prefer it this way.

The “xXx” franchise are the kind of movies that you can’t think about too much or your brain will implode over how implausible they are. They’ve also been the kind of movies that know they’re silly, and even revel in their ridiculousness. Because of the acknowledgement that they’re not serious movies, viewers can shut their brains off and just enjoy the ride.

And “The Return of Xander Cage” is a pretty entertaining ride. The story finds Xander roped back into the xXx program after his mentor, Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) gets blown up. Xander recruits a team as extreme as he is to go after the bad guys. Along the way, Xander’s gang crosses paths with another team, headed up by Xiang (Donnie Yen) and Serena (Deepika Padukone). The story twists and people aren’t who they seem to be, and the story just gets sillier and sillier.

Vin Diesel, left, as Xander Cage and Deepika Padukone as Serena Unger in “xXx: Return of Xander Cage.” | George Kraychyk, Paramount Pictures

This movie goes several light years over the top. The action scenes are hyper violent, but they’re so cartoonish and bloodless, they feel more like old Bug Bunny shorts. Character fall, get smashed my cars and absorb fist-inflicted beating that would drop a normal human for good. But because the movie knows what it is, it doesn’t feel gratuitous. It just feels like dumb fun.

You don’t go to a “xXx” movie for compelling writing or inspired acting, and it’s a good thing. Of the main cast, only Diesel manages to give his character any dimension. He’s grim and determined when he needs to be, but he can disarm with his smile and a chuckle, too. Donnie Yen is fun to watch no matter what he’s doing. I also got a kick out of Nina Dobrev’s characters, Becky, a tech expert who was having as much fun watching Xander’s antics as I was.

The movie’s director, D.J. Caruso (“I Am Number Four”, “Disturbia”), cobbles together his scene with enough energy to keep things rolling, even during the dialogue-heavy bits. The movie never feels slow, but it also never takes a break to think. But that’s beside the point. What matters with “The Return of Xander Cage” is cheesy one-liners and action scenes that make your eyeballs spin.

”xXx: The Return of Xander Cage” is a bit of an anomaly in this world of massive comic book movies and sci-fi franchises. It doesn’t take itself seriously, not even at all and lives by the tagline “kick some butt, get the girl and try to look dope doing it”. And as long as that’s all you’re looking from this ridiculous romp of a movie, you should go home with a smile.

3 ½ Indy Fedoras out of 5

MPAA Rating: PG-13

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