" What a relief. The symbologist is here. "
Angels & Demons

MRQE Top Critic

Les Choristes

The French confection Les Choristes is now available on a skimpy, movie-only DVD —Matt Anderson (DVD review...)

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xXx’s latest save-the-world adventure is absolutely, completely and utterly preposterous. But it’s also disarming in its exuberance and the joy with which it relishes in the comic absurdity of the whole thing.

The Xander Zone

Guardians of the Lunacy
Guardians of the Lunacy

Put it in perspective. This is a movie in which character building and bonding is done through conversations about tattoos.

And it’s a movie that starts off with some shoddy special effects work. During the opening sequence, a satellite crashes to Earth, seemingly using the same SPFX animation techniques with which General Zod escaped the Forbidden Zone in Superman II all the way back in 1981. That’s not exactly encouraging now that we’re in 2017.

But stick with it.

Xander Cage (Vin Diesel, Saving Private Ryan) takes the stage and his opening act is over the over the top. It’s a forehead-smacking adventure in which Xander jumps off the top of an antenna tower, skis down a snowless mountainside, transfers to a skateboard and hustles his way down the middle of a road, clinging to a pickup in order to avoid colliding with a bus.

All the while, Xander keeps his eye on a DEFCON countdown clock as the seconds tick away toward something unspeakable.

Stop... Please! Stop... It’s all too silly for words.

But then it’s revealed exactly what Xander is up to and — guess what — the movie completely understands its own silliness.

Not Your Kind of People

It simply goes with the territory that, after Xander completes his mission, he goes on to make love with a beautiful woman before getting embroiled in yet another dastardly plot. (Editor’s note: The author is writing as a moviegoer and not from personal experience.)

Look at the inspirational side of all this, including the preceding paragraph. Vin Diesel turns 50 in July. Like Springsteen and Jagger, there’s Diesel (and Ford, for that matter) making it happen with age-defying aplomb.

And this time around Diesel is accompanied by another action guru who is aging remarkably well, Donnie Yen. The star of the Ip Man series — and the man who played Chirrut Imwe in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story — turns 54 in July.

Age is merely a number. Thank goodness it has no power to define a person unless that person allows it. And with any luck, the across-the-board attractive and relatively young members of the team — including Nina Dobrev (TV’s The Vampire Diaries), Hermione Corfield (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), Deepika Padukone (Chennai Express), Ruby Rose (Orange Is the New Black) and Kris Wu (Mr. Six) — will take that to heart.

All together, this international band — and Rory McCann (Hot Fuzz) — is brought into service by Jane Marke (Toni Collette, The Sixth Sense — casting against type) to combat a nefarious plot bringing chaos and destruction (and a fair amount of carnage) to the world by way of falling satellites.

You Break It, You Own It

The original xXx was a counter-culture spin on James Bond that — particularly in comparison to Return of Xander Cage — seems downright quaint now. Unfortunately, it was followed by the colossally ill-conceived State of the Union in 2005. “xXx” was no longer emblematic of a single man (one, by the way, with a HUGE xXx tattoo on the back of his neck) recruited by Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction) for the National Security Agency. All of a sudden, xXx was a full-blown government agency all its own. And people were wringing hands over World War IV.

Instead of pretending State of the Union never happened (and, come on now, how hard would that be?), this sequel owns the stupidity and builds on it. The xXx agency is now chock full of disenfranchised super spies. You know. Martial artists. Sharp shooters. Hackers. Millennials. DJ’s. And don’t forget, xXx (the man himself) has mad Web developer skills on his résumé.

Along with a quick nod to the resolution of World War III, there’s even a great joke about Darius Stone (Ice Cube, 22 Jump Street) as he makes his entrance. In State of the Union, he was supposed to be the future of the xXx film franchise and, well, it took 11 years for him to return to the screen.

When it comes to criticism, this guilty pleasure is pretty much bulletproof. It’s hard to call out a movie when it so full-well knows exactly what it is and revels in it. And it’s all a brazen setup for more mayhem to come. Maybe Diesel finally has this series back on track and ready to compete with his other ongoing franchise of over-the-top escapades, the Fast and Furious films.