Rajeev Masand’s Movie Review of xXx: Return Of Xander Cage

Deepika Padukone’s instinct for picking the right films has served her well lately, and there’s a good chance that’ll extend to her first Hollywood film too, namely xXx: Return of Xander Cage. 
Frankly the film isn’t great, or even particularly memorable. But it’s a terrific showcase for Deepika’s captivating presence, her agility in demanding action scenes, and above all, her blazing confidence. What about her performance, you ask? Well, to be fair, she could pull this off with her eyes closed.
Which is why it’s heartening to note that she doesn’t. From the bumper sticker dialogue to the stray moments of emotion, Deepika approaches the job with schoolgirl sincerity and a seriousness that you don’t usually find in this kind of film. 
Mercifully you needn’t remember what happened in the last two xXx outings to follow the plot of this one. Vin Diesel returns in the role of Xander Cage, extreme sports enthusiast-turned-government operative who was presumed dead in an earlier mission but is conveniently discovered to be alive and promptly recruited by a CIA big-shot (Toni Colette) to recover a coveted weapon of mass destruction that’s been stolen by a gang of highly skilled troublemakers. Deepika plays Serena, a member of that fearless gang, who tangles with Xander.
It’s a simplistic plot, and one that shrewdly allows for a diverse cast, presumably so the film can appeal to a global audience. But only a few – particularly Chinese actor Donnie Yen, and Deepika – are rewarded with anything resembling a real character. The rest are all reduced to stereotypes: Thai action star Tony Jaa is the Asian comic, Australian actress Ruby Rose the tough chick, Bulgaria-born Nina Dobrev the pretty nerd.
Curiously, the film recycles many of the same themes from Diesel’s more popular Fast and Furious franchise: a distrust of authority figures, the murky motives of government agencies, and the idea that one’s team is one’s family. But the parallels don’t end there. Like those films, the plot of xXx 3 takes the characters on a globe-hopping tour, plus there’s an endless buffet of next-to-naked women permanently throwing themselves at Diesel, and hey, even some of the stunts look familiar – chief among those, a daring freefall from an airplane.
Hardcore action fans are unlikely to complain however. There’s a nice scrappy feel to the chase sequences, particularly one in which Diesel pursues Yen in the direction of oncoming traffic and on the roofs of speeding cars and buses. But director DJ Caruso doesn’t restrict the heavy lifting to the men, giving the girls equal opportunity to fire heavy artillery, deliver kicks and punches, and chase after their rivals. Occasionally the shaky camera shooting style might set off a migraine, and it’s a shame the film doesn’t give us much by way of a solid villain. 
What it does offer is a leading man who is evidently enjoying himself. Diesel plays Xander with a lightness of touch, despite all the wall-to-wall fight scenes. It’s a casual, throwaway performance, more relaxed than his turn as Dom Toretto in the Fast and Furious movies. But the real pleasure of this film is Deepika Padukone. Whether landing a perfect split in her very first moment on screen, or delivering her lines without a hint of affectation or accent, she makes a lasting impression.
xXx: Return of Xander Cage is only moderately entertaining. But for the sheer pride of watching our girl add another feather to her cap, it’s worth a watch. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five

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