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Thursday, 26 January 2017

Triple X: The Return of Xander Cage and other awkward early 2000's tropes

Remember xXx with Vin Diesel from The Fast & The Furious? Remember when the late 90s and early 2000s were all about extreme sports and tuned import cars? I 'member! Dude, I was a teenager back then and stupid action movies made my blood pumping. But then I freakin' grew up. I'm not saying grown ups back then didn't enjoy a dumb flick once in a while, or that I don't do that now, but I'm gonna explain what made those movies tick back then and why they seem rusty and obsolete now. You might have a different opinion and you might happen to enjoy this genre regardless of what I have to say about xXx: The Return of Xander Cage. With that in mind, the subjective fact is that I didn't enjoy this movie at all. So, let's start with what this movie does right.
The Good
Holy crap, I really do have to think hard about this. Nostalgia, maybe? Although I'm not sure we're all on the same level. I guess I could say I had some sort of nostalgic moments interrupted by chunks of awkwardness. Like, okay, they had some nods and references maybe no one really cared about, but they were there... and then they spell it out for the audience. "Hey, guys, remember the pimp fur coat from the first movie? I'll now try to look good wearing it again, although it may have made sense then because it was in Russia, not freakin' Detroit."
Look, I like Vin Diesel, he has a cool name and charming personality, and I bet my ass off he's a good actor under the right helm. He played in a lot of fairly (income) successful movies and very few less popular ones, like Babylon A.D. or A Man Apart, movies that I honestly liked, but he also portrayed real life mobster Jackie DiNorscio in Find Me Guilty and had several great voice acting gigs. He can be a versatile actor, but he's never escaped his macho gruff type, so he's mostly typecasted and he seems okay with it. In this one, he's trying to play himself in a very lighthearted manner, which makes the movie a bit more lighthearted than the first movie or, say, the Fast & Furious films. Therefore I give props to his performance for livin' up the whole thing, because it really seemed like they had fun filming it, but I really didn't have fun watching it.
The Bad
I really wanted to find at least three good things about this movie and one of them would've been the stunt at the beginning, but it's not that fun. Everyone in the audience was bored to hell. I feel bad for it because it was probably the only good and mostly practical stunt in the whole movie, the rest of it being made of CGI and compositing. I'm just saying they should've had more practical stunts in a movie about extreme characters, not that Vin Diesel or Donnie Yen should put their lives at risk for our entertainment, but the composite in at least one particular chase scene stood out like a sore thumb.
It's so cliche and predictable, a 5 year old could've written this movie. The dialogue is painfully cringey, the characters are borderline stereotypical because that's their character, and the story is about getting a maguffin before the bad guys get their hands on it. But "shockers!" turns the good guys NSA are actually the bad guys, but that's not really a spoiler since it's in the damn trailers.
Good actors have nothing to work with. The movie is mostly action scene, exposition pause, action scene, exposition pause. And in those expositions, no one says anything interesting. It kinda works well for Samuel L. Jackson for he's such a good actor anything he does on screen looks fun, but anyone else just can't seem to have anything smart to say unless they have a gun in their hands. Actors like Donnie Yen who can't make up his mind if he wants to be a depressed soldier or an arrogant prick, Deepika Padukone who starts well but ends up just being Xander's love interest, Ruby Rose who's a badass chick but has only a couple moments to shine, Tony Jaa who barely has anything to do but pretend to be a Michael Jackson fan for some awkward reason, or Rory McCann (The Hound from GoT) who's a crazy person and, I think, the comedic relief, but then everyone's a comedic relief in this movie.
Do you think it's fun when a character explains the joke or te reference? Aside from the fact that this movie has tired references no one cares about, they were so insecure of their audience that they had to explain every scene out loud. Xander Cage takes the gun from a dumb soldier and starts shooting into a crown of people while yawning or posing for the trailer, I don't know. After about half a minute in which you still don't get that he knew the bullets were blank, the NSA boss chick comes out applauding and asks him "HOW DID YOU KNOW THEY WERE BLANKS?" If that doesn't take the cake, (SPOILER) towards the end comes Ice Cube as a deus ex machina to save the day, to which a nerdy chick exclames "It's the Triple X from 2005!" That's not endeering, it's not cute, that's stupid, that's what it is.
I never thought I would say this, but if they wanted to make a sequel in the Triple X franchise it should've had some techno music from the early 2000s. Come on, it would've made the movie much better the crappier it was. At least that way I could've said it's worth the moniker "so bad, it's good". But the way it's written, shot and edited, it's not even worth the bother. It's a boring ass movie... with cheap ass stock action music.
Speaking of ass, this movie has a lot of that. I always wondered how directors (be them second units or the main bloke) decide to film the private parts of women when there's no context or reason for it. Are they like "Camera 1 follows Xander through a bunch of drunk people at the party, Camera 2 pans on a sexy girl's bottom, back to Xander, now back to another chick's tits"? Is that how it goes? Do they draw that on the storyboard? Don't get me wrong, I like women and I like sexy stuff, but I don't see the reason of it being on the screen without a context. It's the equivalent of going to the beach and staring at asses. That's creepy.
Lastly, I wish it wasn't 3D. Someone told me they almost got motion sickness. There weren't any noticeable 3D scenes, while the fast cut editing and movement of the action scenes and fights were really blurry. I wonder if I would've liked it better if it were just a standard 2D showing.

In Conclusion, the makers of xXx: The Return of Xander Cage remember the original movie as a dumb action spoof on spy movies. It was that too, of course, but it was also a full feature showcase of awesome practical stunts to go alongside silly plot, explosions and naked babes. In fact, even the silly plot worked back then because the movie took itself so serious that it was in a complimenting contrast with the tone it was going for. It wasn't a particularly great movie, but it was a good movie for its time, I dare even say it was original. I don't remember much about the 2005 one with Ice Cube, but I believe most people say it was a better and much grounded movie. This movie is not even fun in the sense they intended, to be a lighthearted action flick. It's boring, badly edited, awful lines of dialogue and silly plot. And it ends really abruptly with the classic "we're now disavowed by the Government" or something like that so they can pander on another sequel. I wish Vin Diesel would really leave these types of movies to younger, up and coming actors, and get to doing some serious stuff, but that's probably just me wishful-thinking.
As for the actual viewing, well, we got a free invite to the premiere and the room was packed with people, but that's not saying much because it's probably the smallest one they have and the seats were very uncomfortable. We got seats in the second row and I had three heads in the front row blocking a sizeable part of the bottom half of the screen. And we have subtitles here. Fortunately, I understand English, but I know some who had to bob their heads left and right to be able to read what the blokes on the screen were on about. Seriously, I never had a worst time watching a movie in a theater before.

Also, please let me ask you... does this look like Vin Diesel to you?