Review – Rated X for Exceedingly Dumb (“XXX: The Return of Xander Cage”)

If you remember sitting through the ridiculously bizarre and extraordinarily stupid XXX and its dumb sequel, XXX: State of the Union, and let’s face, who didn’t… then buy that $35 bucket of popcorn, $27 large Coke, and give yourself a quick lobotomy as you watch part three of this totally inane franchise.

We start with NSA agent Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) trying to recruit a new XXX agent (famous Brazilian footballer, Nemar, jr) when a satellite comes crashing out of the sky and into their cafe. BOOM! But that fallen satellite wasn’t an accident! It was the work of a device called the “Pandora’s Box”, which can take any satellite and hurl it onto any location on Earth. In the hands of the NSA, this nasty little device is stolen by a highly elite team of ghosts that Kung-Fu and blast their way into the bldg. Led by Xiang (Donnie Yen), he and his crazy thrill-seekers high-tail it back to the Philippines for safety.

This leads ice queen CIA head-honcho Jane Marke (Toni Collette) to track down and convince old XXX (aka Xander Cage, played again by Vin Diesel) to come back and save the world. He agrees and, after boinking a bevy of beauties in Britain to get info, he’s off to the Philippines. BUT he insists on recruiting his own suicide squad of loonies/friends to help him out. He gets ace sniper and snarky green-haired Adele Wolff (Ruby Rose), crazy stunt driver and lay-about Tennyson (Rory McCann), and DJ Harvard “Nicks” Zhou (Kris Wu) who. . .well, he doesn’t really DO much except say funny lines.

Outfitted with hi-tech gear and weapons by NSA super-techie, Becky Clearidge (an adorable Nina Dobrev), the team visits Xiang and discover (amidst his kickin’ rave with hot, half-naked girls) that he and his teammate, Serena (Deepika Padukone) are, in fact, old XXX agents that want to keep the Pandora’s Box out of the hands of the NSA. But just as things heat up, those darn Russkies ruin the party and that’s the cue for the stunt show to begin, ending with a hilarious motorcycle-wave riding trick. But their Pandora’s Box is just a ruse as the REAL one is back home in the good ol’ USA.

Xander and his team (plus Xiang and his cronies) both race for the real Box as the main culprit plans on using it again to bring down another satellite. Yes, there’s another ridiculous stunt-fest chase on the streets of Detroit (Xander and Xiang getting hit by cars? No problem!). Good news: they recover the Pandora’s Box and kill the bad guy. Bad news: Both Xander and Xiang are double-crossed and that starts a laughable chain of events with SO many deus ex machinas it’s mind-boggling. Xander saves the day (naturally) with, not only a callback to the 2005 movie (a certain ex-XXX shows up), but there’s also a cute little wink ‘n’ nod to the Avengers at the end, just for fun.

One thing’s for sure, this movie does NOT take place on Earth. Maybe Earth 2 (like in The Flash) or some other parallel universe because gravity, the laws of physics, and any kind of logic does not exist. Why? Because no mere human could survive a fraction of what these guys go through; it’s physically impossible. The opening stunt of Diesel skiing off a gigantic tower into the Peruvian jungles would kill anyone else; but not our hero!

Director D.J. Caruso, who directed such box office duds as I Am Number Four and Two For The Money, really has a flair for stunt camera work. It’s quite good and has some sharp angles when it gets cranked up to 11, but that script by F. Scott Frazier (this is his first theatrical screenplay) is just plain dumb. Written like a 13-year-old jacked up on Red Bull and Hot Pockets, it’s filled with stupid dialogue, one-dimensional characters, a lazy and obvious plot and, like I mentioned before, more deus ex machinas than Diesel has muscles.

The actors look like they’re having fun and collecting a nice paycheck, but Diesel smiling while spouting the worst lines imaginable, looks almost bored and sarcastic while doing them. Thank heaven for Yen and his mad Kung-Fu skills (his opening fight scene is awesome) and Dobrev’s quirky little “Q”-branch specialist are the film’s highlights. The rest of the team look like rejects from a Fast ‘n’ Furious wanna-be reboot… which Diesel happens to return in (The Fate of the Furious) this April. Gee, can’t wait for that!

Never Say Never Again (1983)

In 1971 Sean Connery said, after completing his James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever, “I will never play James Bond again!”. The title refers to his statement and this remake of his own 1965 Bond film, Thunderball. The script, which had a major controversy over rights, was the reason for the remake, BTW. It was sorta of a dig at the old writer, Kevin McClory, who caused the heated debate over the rights. This version was done by Lorenzo Semple, Jr, known for the terrific Three Days of the Condor and creating the campy Batman TV series.

IF you saw Thunderball, then you already know the plot: After MI6 agent James Bond, 007, (Connery) fails a routine training exercise, his superior, M (Edward Fox), orders Bond to a health clinic outside London to get back into shape. While there, Bond witnesses a mysterious nurse named Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera) giving a beating to a patient in a nearby room and Fatima, a true sadomasochist at heart, attempts to kill Bond in the clinic gym, but Bond manages to defeat her.

Meanwhile, that nefarious evil organization, SPECTRE, run by Ernst Stavros Blofeld (Max Von Sydow), has made it possible to switch the dummy warheads of two cruise missiles with live nuclear warheads.Yikes! SPECTRE then steals the warheads, intending to extort billions of dollars from NATO governments. M reluctantly reactivates Bond and assigns him the task of tracking down the missing weapons. James meets Domino Petachi (Kim Basinger), and her wealthy lover, Maximilian Largo (Klaus Maria Brandauer), a secret SPECTRE agent.

Bond follows Largo and his yacht to the Bahamas where he spars with Blush and then engages Largo in silly 3D video game called Domination; the loser of each turn receives a series of electric shocks. Bond ultimately wins. Yay! But driving home, Bond is captured by Blush! Boo! But James manages to use his Q-branch-issued fountain pen to shoot Blush with an explosive dart. Yay! Bond and CIA buddy, Felix Leiter (Bernie Casey) attempt to board Largo’s yacht to find the warheads, but Bond gets gets captured by Largo and taken to North Africa, which is where the warheads happen to be hidden in the “Tears of Allah” secret cave.

Bond escapes and, in the gunfight confusion, Largo makes his getaway with one of the warheads. Bond catches and fights Largo underwater just as Largo tries to detonate the last bomb. But hell hath no fury and Largo is killed by Domino, taking her revenge for her brother’s death. Bond returns to the Bahamas with Domino and never does another 007 film ever again. E-V-E-R.

It wasn’t the usual United Artists/Cubby Broccoli produced Bond film that everyone was used to; this was a Warner Bros release. Even though it had THE best James Bond ever in it –Sean Frickkin’ Connery– it was just a rehash of the same Bond film done before (and not the best one, mind you). The script was polished and reimagined, but the dialogue was still lackluster and the plot was still essentially dull and mediocre. Yes, “Bond was back”, but he was soon gone again for good, after critics pointed out that age 52, Connery was getting too old to play the part. Ouch! That, plus the fact that casting was pretty bad: Brandauer was suppose to be villainous (he wasn’t), Basinger was terrible, and Carrera played her Fatima Blush SO over-the-top it bordered on being a Monty Python character.

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