Return of Xander

The movie "Return of Xander" was a remake of a classic by Alfred Hitchcock. Selecting Vin diesel for the lead role was a mistake all on its own since he is just muscles and no talent according to the critic. The only good point is that Donnie Yen made an appearance to save the day and the movie. 3 out of 10 stars.

U.S. President Donald J. Trump, in his inaugural address last week, exclaimed, “When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.”

What? Did he mean patriotism was the key to prejudice? I am all for respecting and defending one’s way of life, but so-called patriots have always taken it too far. They have always confused patriotism with xenophobia, foreigners with intruders.

In XXX: Return of Xander Cage, the new Vin Diesel vehicle, the protagonist declares, “Patriotism is dead.” I could not stop laughing. Nothing could be further from the truth. Mere decades since pundits predicted that all forms of nationalism and organized religion will disappear, patriotism has made a comeback, and this time, it is with a vengeance.

Before I begin this review, I should note that I am heavily predisposed against actor Vin Diesel. Of all the lousy incompetent actors in the world, no one annoys me more so than goo-faced, forever groaning Vin Diesel. He acts like a child paints. Every single movie he has ever made (with the exception of Saving Private Ryan, where he has a minor role) is either barely watchable or outright disgusting. Vin Diesel, to me at least, is where movies come to die.

Return of Xander Cage kicks off with a cameo appearance of the famous Brazilian footballer Neymar. A tragedy ensues, and then the film moves on to another scene where America’s intelligence agencies are infiltrated by a group of four multiracial outlaws who steal a powerful device that can control artificial satellites in space. After the incident, the head of the National Security Agency, played by Toni Collette, decides to enlist a man who “can walk through a tornado and come out the other end as if it was just a breeze.”

The dialogue, I should warn, is atrocious. Enter Diesel’s character, Xander Cage. He is approached by the NSA and asked to retrieve the stolen device. He agrees, but only if he could recruit his own crew. He chooses a lesbian sharpshooter, a disk Jockey and a mentally challenged stuntman. But do not let that fool you; his crew is talented as it is arrogant.

At some point in the movie, the plot thickens. The foes turn out to be friends and friends turn out to be foes. Amidst all this, Cage keeps his cool, jumps from cliffs and airplanes, hooks up with several attractive women (nerds are actually super attractive women in eyeglasses), rides motorcycles, knocks out henchmen and pulls off several stunts Spiderman would be proud of.

There are many action heroes whose stunts we may not wholly believe. But since what they do is believable within the frame of their reality, we usually go along with the ride. Yes, it is unlikely that James Bond could keep his cool while a bomb goes off behind him, but given the setting, and given who he is, it is believable. Here, Cage and the other characters do not even pretend to be human beings. They are impervious to bullets or heights. Biology and physics are suspended for the sake of convenience. And it would all have been OK if this was a superhero movie, sci-fi or fantasy.

Return of Xander Cage greatly stretches the definition of an action movie. Certain details of the movie are in keeping with the current American zeitgeist. This is a movie about an all-powerful man (Cage) who seems like he can do anything without looking like he is putting an effort in it (Trump, anyone?). The amount of arrogance that oozes out of Cage throughout the film forced me to root for the bad guys. The bad guys are not individuals but institutions, politicians, corporate board members and people in suits. To top it all off, the main villain is the CIA director. It really is OK to mistakenly believe it was the Trump administration that penned this film.

Actually, it was written by some guy I do not even care to mention.

The film has been in development for some time, ever since the release of XXX: Sate of the Union. Then, Rob Cohen, the director of the first XXX movie, had announced he was working on a script with the guys that wrote Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator Salvation. As if that is something to gloat about.

The direction is by D.J. Caruso. The same guy that gave us Eagle Eye and the atrocious Michael Bay produced I Am Number Four. But these are just a couple of his minor transgressions. His biggest sin was making the deeply misguided, if not malicious, Disturbia.

Making bad movies is one thing – even Godard is sometimes guilty of this – but remaking Alfred Hitchcock masterpieces into commercial drivel is something I do not forgive. I have always believed that Diesel was a man-child, with too much muscle. I do hope his commercial appeal loosens, so that he does not continue to bombard us with unalloyed hogwash, free of purpose or meaning. The only detail that makes the film bearable is the appearance of Chinese superstar Donnie Yen.

By Christian Tesfaye
Exclusive to Fortune

Published on Jan 31,2017 [ Vol 17 ,No 874]



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