Xander Cage returns but should have stayed away

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2 out of 4 stars

Xander “XXX” Cage should have remained dead.

But instead he miraculously returned to the big screen a decade after he was supposedly killed during one of his outlandish missions.

It’s been 12 years since audiences saw him, when Vin Diesel starred as the U.S. government operative tasked with stopping a crime syndicate from blowing up the planet in the aptly named XXX.

Ruby Rose, who plays Vin Diesel's sidekick Adele Wolf, is one of few bright spots in XXX: Return of Xander Cage.
Ruby Rose, who plays Vin Diesel’s sidekick Adele Wolf, is one of few bright spots in XXX: Return of Xander Cage. (Paramount)

The worldwide audience fell in love with how he combined pure strength, X-Game athleticism and witty one-liners to make the franchise’s first film a major hit, generating more than $277 million at the box office.

In 2005, Xander Cage returned, this time in the form of Ice Cube, who took over the role and couldn’t come close to replicating Diesel’s success, as the second installment made about $71 million at the worldwide box office.

That should have been the end of XXX. Instead, Diesel chose to bring the character back to life, in what may be the worst decision of his career. He should have just stuck with the Fast & Furious franchise.

Diesel, 49, tries to be the same skateboard-riding, XXX-treme sports dude whose groundbreaking stunts in the first film took over the screen. Now, when he basically does the same feats, it’s more like been there, done that. You can only ski down a mountain so many ways and ride a skateboard at high speeds through traffic so many times before the audience gets bored.

Donnie Yen

Fair or not, Diesel has set the bar so high with his stunts that he can no longer clear it. Diesel’s forced to carry the XXX: Return of Xander Cage with his humor, which starts out strong, yet fades throughout the 107-minute film.

The downfall of the film, in which Xander and his buddies must secure a stolen device that can cause satellites to crash, is its fighting scenes appear to be choreographed to the point they belong in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.

Unlike in previous movies, Diesel’s posse gets plenty of time on the screen, as Adele Wolf (Ruby Rose), Rory McCann (Tennyson Torch) and Nicks (Kris Wu) offer equal parts humor and muscle to complement Diesel.

Samuel L. Jackson

But no matter how many things explode, they can’t cover the tackiness that engulfs this film. Toni Collette falls short in her attempt to live up her role as the head of the government agency that oversees Cage’s crew. Donnie Yen, who plays the mysterious Xiang, pulls off some impressive martial arts fight scenes that would make Bruce Lee proud.

“XXX: Return of Xander Cage” would go over much better with the audience had it not been for the series’ first film, when XXX did things that no other hero had done on screen. They were so good that “XXX: Return of Xander Cage” tries so hard to emulate its predecessor that it comes off looking like a bad copy.

That’s a shame, too, as Diesel has emerged as one of the best action heroes of his time. Maybe it’s time for XXX to call it a career, or at least give the job to someone about half of Diesel’s age.