A big, dumb action movie

Striking a pose in xXx: Return Of Xander Cage are (from far left) Vin Diesel, Deepika Padukone and Toni Collette.
Striking a pose in xXx: Return Of Xander Cage are (from far left) Vin Diesel, Deepika Padukone and Toni Collette. PHOTO: UIP

Showing attitude is what counts in xXx: Return Of Xander Cage



107 minutes/Now showing/3/5 stars

The story: Extreme sports pro, sleeper agent and ladies' man Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) is brought in from the cold by his handler Jane Marke (Toni Collette) to retrieve an ultimate weapon, now in the hands of a ring (with members played by Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone and Tony Jaa). Cage recruits a team, comprising deejay Nicks (Kris Wu), sniper Wolff (Ruby Rose) and IT expert Clearidge (Nina Dobrev).

So it was not Chinese-Canadian rapper-model Wu's fault that he was roped in just to make headbobbing motions and downward fingerpistols inside a deejay booth, but it is safe to say that even if he had been given more to do, it would be on the cutting-room floor.

Because this is the kind of movie where acting is all about striking the right pose.

Attitude matters and any attitude other than cool or in control is not welcome.

It is the same aesthetic found in Diesel's other franchise, the Fast And Furious movies.

The look and swagger in both series is so similar that there should be a name for it.

Urban action? Street fashion premium? Pan-global shopping catalogue action shooter?

Whatever name one picks for this genre, these are its hallmarks: a pop star or boyband member as supporting actor (Wu), a major Chinese actor (Yen, as Xiang, the chief villain), Indian stars in more supporting roles (Padukone as Xander's love interest-sultry villainess), a slice of Hollywood beefcake (Diesel), the shallowest of stories, heavy action and picturesque locations and there you have it - this movie or the upcoming Jackie Chan vehicle Kung Fu Yoga.

And with minor modifications, you also have last year's The Great Wall (with Matt Damon and Andy Lau).

So at heart, this is still a big, dumb action movie, tweaked for panAsian appeal.

Thankfully, big, dumb action movies, more so than stodgier period flicks such as The Great Wall, are sturdy enough to withstand market- driven add-ons.

This is a popcorn movie that knows what it is and delivers the goods.

Collette is perfect as a clenchedjawed spymaster. Yen's Xiang is a pivotal character and not a prop, thank goodness, and actually speaks a fair bit, when he is not kicking people in the head. Thai action star Tony Jaa is, sadly, a mute study in flying fists.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2017, with the headline 'A big, dumb action movie'. Print Edition | Subscribe