Catholic News Service
Somewhere behind the macho posturing that predominates in the action sequel “XXX: Return of Xander Cage,” there’s a plot and a back story.
Viewers are unlikely to care about the former and will have to be long in the tooth to recall the latter since this is the third in a series of films that began with 2002’s “XXX” and hasn’t been added to since 2005.
A fine wine this franchise is not. So sorting out what it was that Samuel L. Jackson’s character, NSA agent Augustus Gibbons, was doing way back in the first George W. Bush administration feels like dusty work.
Basically, we gather, he was serving as the impresario of what would become a top-secret, hush-hush, eyes-only little band of off-the-record operatives. The group takes its orthographically repetitive name not from a porno theater’s marquee, but from a tattoo on the back of the neck of its first and leading member, Xander Cage (Vin Diesel).
After a dozen years in seclusion, pretending to be dead, Cage comes out of retirement at the behest of CIA bigwig, and perpetual sourpuss, Jane Marke (Toni Collette). Marke, it seems, has a lot to pout about since some rogue colleague has gotten hold of a device capable of turning every satellite in the sky into a destructive earthbound missile.
Cage proceeds to shoot, skateboard and smart-mouth his way through director D.J. Caruso’s pedestrian movie. He’s backed by expert sniper Adele (Ruby Rose), Tennyson (Rory McCann), a Brit who seems to have taken one too many hits to the head on the rugby field, and a DJ named Nicks (Kris Wu).
Because, after all, when you’re out to save the world you do need to have your own disc jockey in tow, no?
Donnie Yen plays shady martial arts master Xiang, who starts out as Cage’s principal adversary on the chase. Like some of the other black hats, though, including Cage’s sultry flirt interest, Serena (Deepika Padukone), Xiang is not necessarily the villain he initially seems.
“Kick some (posterior), get the girl and try to look dope while you’re doing it,” intones Jackson in what passes for this sub-Bond picture’s worldview. For Cage, fulfilling the second of those admonitions means not only having meaningless sex with one gal, but an unseen encounter with a half-dozen others.
Thus, though it skims over the blood flow as innumerable extras bite the dust, its fleeting but unwelcome presentation of intimacy as a team sport makes Cage’s latest adventure unfit for most.
The film contains much action violence, some of it harsh, brief gore, strong sexual content, including semi-graphic nonmarital activity and off-screen group sex as well as references to aberrant behavior, a couple of profanities, a few milder oaths, a single rough term and frequent crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.
Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.