Like a car mechanic tasked with repairing a UFO or a political pundit faced with explaining Donald Trump’s cabinet appointments, critically appraising the third XXX movie is guesswork followed by confusion, disappointment and terror. XXX: Return of Xander Cage is shaped like a movie. It is movie-esque. There are actors and stuff. Presumably, a script was involved. But it may be best described as an alien cinematic vehicle assembled by a potentially deranged lunatic.
Vin Diesel’s Xander Cage is a derpy, muscled, sentient ESPN commercial for the X-Games. In the first movie, he was recruited into the government by Sam Jackson to do kick flips and wheelies for justice. In the second movie, his character was killed off-screen so Ice Cube could engage in some vaguely racist bullshit. In this third installment, he is unkilled so he can hunt for a magic computer box that bad people want to use to do bad things.
Everyone knows, when it comes time to stop evil people from getting a magic computer box, you’re going to want two people first and foremost: a DJ with no discernible skills or talent (Kris Wu) and an idiot who crashes cars every time he drives them (Rory McCann). Cage also accidentally recruits Adele Wolff (Ruby Rose), whose sniper skills are applicable to the situation at hand. This ragtag bunch of Xtremers first fight and then join forces with Xiang (Donnie Yen), Talon (Tony Jaa) and Serena (Deepika Padukone) to form the most diverse collection of good looking people this side of a college recruitment brochure.
The fact that the movie is stupid is as forgivable as Diesel’s narcoleptic line delivery. What is less permissible is that things never quite get wacky or wild enough. XXX desperately wants to be Fast and Furious when it grows up. However, the collateral damage that kills hundreds of innocent civilians is hella distracting, the team’s lack of chemistry is OMG blatant and the absence of a definable villain is as obvious as Jason Statham’s forehead. Whereas the FF franchise has perfected its formula, XXX is trying to ape it without putting in the work; it is the uneducated Mr. Pibb, swaggering like it has the PhD of Dr. Pepper.
Although it’s nice to see another would-be-blockbuster series embrace diversity, stereotypes and male gaze abound. For example, Nina Dobrev plays a character so in awe of Xander’s sweaty, vest-wearing persona that she is talking sex swings and safe words before we even find out she’s supposed to be a braniac computer expert. She also flirts with Rose’s character in a way that can only be described as “written and filmed by a dude.”
Xander Cage’s return is no triumph nor prophesy of good times ahead. It’s just an off-brand version of Fast and Furious: the Toasted Whole Grain Oats to Cheerios, the Mountain Lightning to Mountain Dew, the Go-Bots to Transformers. If you’re starving for entertainment, it may keep you alive, but nobody will prefer the extreme taste or flavor.
This review previously appeared in The Reader of Omaha, Nebraska.