xXx: The Return of Xander Cage - just when you thought things couldn’t get any more ridiculous

Vin Diesel returns to punch people with a motorbike, go skiing in the jungle and go surfing on a motorbike

Vin Diesel in xXx: Return of Xander Cage. Photograph: Paramount

Film Title: xXx: The Return of Xander Cage

Director: D.J. Caruso

Starring: Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, Kris Wu, Ruby Rose, Tony Jaa, Nina Dobrev, Toni Collette, Samuel L. Jackson

Genre: Action

Running Time: 107 min

Fri, Jan 20, 2017, 10:00

   

The xXx franchise was created to give 007 an “edgier” rival: where Bond required an Aston Martin, Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) could run his pursuers off the road on a skateboard; where her Majesty’s favourite psycho “bedded” - to use a tabloid phrase - some exotic beauty; La Diesel landed a bevy – to use a tabloid phrase - of same. (This third instalment contains an orgy that ends with everyone waking up in matching, unmolested underwear, thereby suggesting that no one quite understood the rules).

This stuttering sequence got off to a decent, silly start in 2002, followed by an underwhelming sequel with Ice Cube standing in for departing headliner, Diesel. If that wasn’t experimental enough, this third, belated instalment goes full-metal Godard, with a presentation of movie-action tropes without anything like a movie attached. We’re through the looking glass, or at least the windshield glass. Many times over.

Trading on the success of Diesel’s association with the Fast & Furious franchise, xXx3 cunningly disguises itself as an instalment of that more successful franchise. Thus, Diesel is rather cynically joined by Bollywood’s most popular box-office draw (Deepika Padukone, the highest-paid actor in the world), Hong Kong’s most popular box-office draw (Donnie Yen), Thailand’s most popular box-office draw (Tony Jaa), Chinese rapper Kris Wu and Aussie lesbian pin-up Ruby Rose. In this money-grabbing spirit, Barcelona’s Neymar Jr pops up in a cameo that’s so brief, you wonder if he was paid by the nanosecond.

Together, the krew’s mission is to look like videogame avatars (but without the sparkling personality of, say, a Space Invader triangle), take orders from Toni Collette’s best cat’s-arse mouth, and retrieve some fiendish device that causes satellites to fall from the sky/allows the government to spy on everyone/ makes tea for Michael Flatley.

At least that’s what we think is going on. To be honest, the film is composed of so many fast cuts, it’s impossible to say for sure. One sequence which begins with Diesel using a motorbike to punch someone and ends with Diesel using the same motorbike as a surfboard, is rendered in such a blur that it’s impossible to determine who is chasing whom. And if it isn’t a crime to chop up the beautiful fight choreography of Donnie Yen into unintelligible ribbons, well, it ought to be.

The dialogue, which is peppered with meme-speak from 2013 – “basic bitch”, “that’s what she said” – does little to guide us through the blur of, well, stuff. Toni Colette, an actor who could undoubtedly deliver a kick-ass King Lear through the medium of sock-puppet, struggles with her ‘words’. But the discourse, does, at least, alert us to the movie’s delight in its own preposterous.

“I’m gonna have to go kamikaze,” says Diesel, as he crashes into something or other. “Don’t do it,” cries his cohort. “It’s suicide.”