Daredevil government operative Xander Cage is the millennial generation’s answer to James Bond. Trading in 007’s classic tuxedo and dry martini for a tank top and a shot of adrenaline, the tatted-up muscleman who beds every scantily clad babe (or more) he meets never breaks a sweat, even when skiing down a lush jungle mountainside or freefalling without a parachute. He’s one super cool dude. In this so-so sequel resurrecting the extreme sports athlete turned NSA agent, the suits once again enlist a reluctant Cage (Diesel) for a mission, this time to retrieve a stolen doomsday device called Pandora’s Box, a contraption that can send rogue satellites plummeting to Earth and otherwise upend the world order. Executed by an international cast of seemingly invincible characters with shifting personal and political alliances, the operation is overseen by an ice-blonde intelligence officer played by a depressingly miscast Collette, who registers her disdain for the ragtag crew by frequently pursing her lips. When required to utter some of the film’s more unutterable dialogue (“We need someone who can walk into a tornado and come out the other side like it was a gentle breeze”), Collette – usually a delight – sounds like she’s phonetically speaking a foreign language. Not even Judi Dench could sell these lines.
The stunt work is the best thing going here, just as in the first film of the franchise in which Diesel originated the role of X back in 2002. (Ice Cube inexplicably starred in the 2005 sequel, which underperformed at the box office.) A relatively successful performer since the Aughts, Diesel lacks the screen presence of Arnold Schwarzenegger, an actor of limited talents who nevertheless epitomized the contemporary action hero in American popcorn cinema for two decades through the power of his sheer will. (The two men, however, have one thing in common: They both look chiseled from the same block of granite.) Diesel’s subdued energy rarely commands the screen; you’re often looking at him only because that’s where director Caruso points the camera. At best, Diesel competently gets the job done, which is to play second fiddle to a lot of gunfire, a bunch of explosions, and a few interesting extreme maneuvers, though in a scene in which he plays Russian roulette with some live hand grenades, he seems to be genuinely having a good time. Aside from that and a few rad stunts, this xXx rarely marks the spot.Read a full review of xXx: Return of Xander Cage.