Cinema

xXx is No Brains and All Yawn

In making Xander Cage capable of anything, xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is absolutely devoid of conflict.

A still from xXx: The Return of Xander Cage. Credit: Twitter

A still from xXx: The Return of Xander Cage. Credit: Twitter

Be scared. Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) is back. Be very scared. Because this time he’s back to save not just America, but the world. Which means Xander, and his latest, xXx: Return of Xander Cage, bites more than it can chew. But you also expect nothing less from this big budget Hollywood actioner—a film that’s high on brawn, low on brain.

It’s fascinating how action films see their heroes. It’s at once adulation, wonderment, and indulgence – it’s almost romantic. And xXx is no exception. It sees Xander as no less than a superhero – someone capable of everything: dodging bullets, performing stunts, seducing women, inspiring kids, outwitting enemies, saving nations. Flaws? Please.

Long believed to be dead, Xander is living a new life in Santo Domingo. We don’t know what he’s doing there, but given that he can glide through forest, skateboard on roads, high-fiving people along the way, carrying a transmitter so that the locals can watch a live soccer game tells us that our man’s managed to keep himself busy. Meanwhile, an armed gang has infiltrated the CIA headquarters, in Washington DC, carrying with them Pandora’s Box – a device that can activate military satellites. The initial segment of xXx — marked by crosscutting, a playful background score, and high-octane action sequences — is fairly enjoyable. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, is committed to delivering what films like xXx are known for: thrills aplenty, backed by a reasonably engaging story.

But there’s a difference between silly and stupid. Silly can be endearing and enjoyable while stupid is neither. After the first half hour, xXx is more stupid, less silly. As the film moves from Santo Domingo to Washington to a beach in Philippines, we get acquainted with the rest of the characters (played by, among others, Donnie Yen, Toni Collette, Ruby Rose, and, of course, Deepika Padukone). Unlike other Indian exports to Hollywood, Padukone has a meaty role in xXx, one that’s central to the movie. And even though in a few scenes her dialogue delivery isn’t perfect, she’s largely convincing.

However, xXx’s fixation on its hero, Diesel, severely compromises the film. There’s nothing that Diesel’s Xander can’t do, and, as a result, the film’s devoid of conflict. Twenty people with guns and grenades need to be overpowered? Xander’s bare hands are enough. A smart-alecky character needs to be taught a lesson? Xander has better wisecracks. The villain’s up to something sneaky? Xander is smarter. By making Xander omnipotent and omnipresent, xXx becomes monotonous, repetitive, and boring. At one point, a character calls him “A Red Bull freak show”, and it’s a rare instance of the film being self-aware and self-deprecating, where it’s not all about its hero.

xXx, especially in its latter part, could have benefitted from some humour and intrigue, but an insipid film like this has no space for them. Its climax — a 15-minute yawn fest of raining bullets and unending fistfights — is especially disappointing, where the film scales new peaks of boredom and tedium, resembling a shoddy video game solely designed to stoke raging testosterone. And sadly it can’t care less. One of the closing lines of the film has one character say this to Xander: “Kick some ass, get the girl, and try to look dope while you’re doing it.” That is the film’s defining sentiment—taken straight from the manual of drunken frat boys who need to stop taking themselves seriously.