ABSOLUTE FUN: Vin Diesel and the crew return in ‘xXx’ and deliver many laughs

Jan 31 • ARTSY SMARTSY, FEATURE BOTTOM, FilmNo Comments on ABSOLUTE FUN: Vin Diesel and the crew return in ‘xXx’ and deliver many laughs

Webster’s defines “metatextuality” as a form of intertextual discourse, in which one text makes critical commentary on another text. The concept is related to Gérard Genette’s concept of transtextuality, in which a text changes or expands on the content of another text. This is a rather wordy description of the “meta” trend: the concept of being self-referential. The deconstructionist ideology has become rather popular in the 21st century, where storytellers and characters reference the trappings and tropes of their fictional world. When done well, it’s a nice wink and nod to the audience.  When it’s done masterfully, audiences may not even notice.

ALL IN FOR ACTION: Vin Diesel returns in a meta funny ‘xXx.’ Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

ALL IN FOR ACTION: Vin Diesel returns in a meta funny ‘xXx.’ Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

I went into the third “xXx” movie with zero expectations. The original “xXx” is a harmless action movie with some hilarious choices. In the days where Bond was still stuck in his cartoonish spectacle phase, and Jason Bourne hadn’t perfected shaky cam action ass-kicking, Vin Diesel decided the spy movie needed an extreme makeover. At the time, the plot seemed incredibly ludicrous: a government operative (Samuel Jackson) recruits extreme athletes to help take down international terror. The whole premise is laughable, and yet the rise in popularity of superhero films over the past decade almost makes it feel ahead of its time.

“xXx: The Return of Xander Cage” feels like a comic-book movie and uses the original premise and amps it up to appropriately ludicrous levels. Samuel Jackson is still out recruiting extreme athletes because apparently extreme athletes still exist. The opening scene joyfully points out the craziness of the idea and the program in a monologue from Jackson which feels inspired. A falling satellite blows him up good, and soon the government is trying to find out who killed him, and how exactly they were able to use a satellite as the world’s most hilarious anvil equivalent.

Xander Cage (Diesel) has been pretending to be dead while hanging out in the third world, still trying to right wrongs like a bald Robin Hood who uses urban skis instead of a bow and arrow. He’s approached by another government handler (Toni Collette) who asks him to find out who murdered his former mentor and recover a little technical doo-dad that can turn satellites into giant whack-a-mole mallets. Cage agrees but only under the condition he can recruit his own super-extreme team.

Soon enough, Cage has his team of amazing shooters, drivers and club DJs, and they head to the Philippines where he discovers (gasp!) the enemies are also former members of the “xXx” program. This is only surprising to people who haven’t seen a spy movie in the last five years—because that’s been the plot of them all. Fortunately, for us, the villains are played by well-known action icons, like Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa. The entire movie ends up being better than average because of an awesome “Expendables”-like cast of ass-kickers.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed “xXx: The Return of Xander Cage.” Director D.J. Caruso (“Disturbia”) has found an enjoyable balance between cheesy action and a self-deprecating meta tone that is comfortable making fun of itself. There’s acknowledgement early and often that Diesel and his entire extreme athlete persona is a relic of recent history, and it’s played for grins. It’s weird to see a movie so willing to take fun pokes at itself. I’m used to James Bond and spy culture being ridiculed, as seen in “Austin Powers.” I’m not used to seeing a concept played for laughs within its own series.

Props to Diesel, Caruso and the entire crew. “xXx: The Return of Xander Cage” is a giant, melted slab of Gruyere slapped onto a piece of Spam. And, dammit, it’s actually a lot of fun. I laughed in this movie—a lot. So much so I found myself asking if the laughs were intentional. But they had to be. These characters are cartoons delivering lines with the subtlety of Daffy Duck. Toni Collette, an extremely talented actress, spits out action clichés with such cold disinterest  that I was convinced the movie was making fun of itself. That’s the genius of the third “xXx.” I couldn’t tell if it was all for fun accidentally or an absolute train wreck on purpose. That’s either a happy accident or a work of genius. I’m fine with either answer.

DETAILS:
xXx: The Return of Xander Cage

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Rated PG-13
Directed by D. J. Caruso
Starring Vin Diesel, Ruby Rose, Toni Collette, Ice Cube, Samuel L. Jackson

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