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Who the hell is Xander Cage? A valid question, particularly if you don’t have an encyclopaedic knowledge of stalled twenty-first-century action franchises. Back in 2002, XXX saw skate-punk Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) recruited by shady CIA officer Gibbons (Samuel L Jackson) to be his top terrorist-fighting secret agent. But efforts to drum up a sequel went sideways when Diesel dropped out and Ice Cube stepped into 2005’s XXX: State of the Union as Cage replacement Darius Stone (if nothing else, the series has a way with names).
Now here we are, 15 years since the first movie, and a combination of major Chinese investment, Diesel’s evident enthusiasm and presumably some sort of under-the-radar popular demand has dragged Big Vin back into the fold. The stage is set for a doomed attempt to relight the old fire. Right? Actually, no. XXX: The Return of Xander Cage may be dumb as a post. It may be trashy, pointless and riddled with plot holes. But if it doesn’t slap a big silly smile on your face, you may want to check your pulse.
In the time-honoured tradition of retired beat-em-up legends, Cage is sunning himself in a tropical backwater when the call comes down from ice-queen Marke (Toni Collette on fierce form) that his old handler has been murdered by rogue terrorist Xiang (Donnie Yen). And before you can say ‘Wait, isn’t he a bit old now?’, Cage is back in action, recruiting a crack team that includes The Hound from Game of Thrones and a kid who looks like a Chinese pop star (because he is). What follows is loopy in the extreme: Vin and Donnie go at it hammer and tongs, Collette storms around like the love child of Cruella De Vil and Theresa May, and did you know motorbikes can go surfing now?
Diesel still looks like a cartoon penis with a face drawn on it, and at 49 he’s starting – unsurprisingly – to look just a little flaccid. But luckily, neither he nor anyone else is taking this remotely seriously: cars explode, fists fly, sneering kiss-off lines flow like water and a middle-aged man rides a skateboard in cut-off shorts without anybody laughing at him. It’s also pleasingly diverse, balancing out some dubious up-close booty-shaking by passing the Bechdel Test with flying colours. If all you need from a night out is 107 brainless minutes of shiny, noisy fun, step on up.
By Tom Huddleston