*NEW* xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE REVIEW *NEW*

He should have stayed dead.

Left for dead, Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) secretly returns to action for a new, tough assignment with his handler Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L Jackson).

Let’s be honest. You should know what to expect with Vin Diesel. I actually enjoyed the first xXx. It had the right balance of action, fun and stupidity perfectly crammed into 90 adrenaline-fuelled minutes.

But this latest offering was just ridiculous. And not in a good way.

The opening sequence didn’t give me high hopes. Had the writers even seen xXx? NOT even Samuel L Jackson could save the day. He delivered his usual shtick BUT he seemed to forget the character he was supposed to be playing.

I always remembered Augustus Gibbons as a real hardass. His “Have you ever watched lions in the zoo?” speech left goosebumps.

His fractious relationship with the deluded Cage was the movie’s unique selling point. BUT why did they turn him into this?

 

His scar mysteriously gone. Some stupid Harry Potter glasses and a cringe-inducing cameo with the Barcelona attacking midfielder Neymar Jr.

Really?

Neymar Jr looked genuinely confused as if he had stumbled on the set by mistake.

That was only the tip of the iceberg.

Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine) did her best as Cage’s new handler Jane Marke BUT her pale complexion and stern demeanour did nothing to spark any life into this incredibly droll plot line.

Donnie Yen wasn’t in this enough. The force was not with him on this one. Thank God he delivered a scene stealing supporting turn in another sequel. He smiled and shrugged away as he threw one horribly CGI’d kick after another.

NOT even the enchanting Deepika Padukone could save the day. By 20 minutes, I was ready to switch off.

However, once the main man appeared. My grumbling subdued. Diesel did his thing. Leaping off 50 foot TV antennas and skateboarding off cars. Enjoying sun, sea and sex in a beautiful exotic location.

I have to admit this was the liveliest acting I’ve seen from the guy. Less gristle and mumble. It was just a shame that the banter and one liners just didn’t work.

Lapping up a rapper’s paradise with a ridiculous fluffy coat and dozens of ladies. James Bond on Red bull and adrenaline.

And they still managed to make that boring?

Nina Dobrev (The Vampire Diaries) was incredibly annoying as the uber keen computer nerd Becky Clearidge. Ogling over Cage and chatting utter nonsense. Dreadful.

I couldn’t believe how surprisingly slow and drawn out this film felt. It didn’t help that the rag tag team of kn*bheads that Cage recruited were irritating.

The silly credits popping up with each member’s special party trick and unofficial Guinness world record attempts for achieving something completely stupid did NOT help.

The Wolf from Game of Thrones?! Oh how the mighty have fallen? A retarded conspiracy nut obsessed with Lockerbie? Really? Ruby Rose played on her bisexual vibe again. Seriously? Is that all she has?

Kris Wu’s character was woeful. His only ability appeared to be hijacking DJ booths and delivering “bangers” as a distraction. Yikes.

Vin Diesel was having fun and not giving a damn. BUT it felt like he gave his best in the wrong movie with the wrong character. Unintentionally comical and cringe-inducing.

By the hour marker, I conceded and accepted the stupidity. Some of the action sequences were actually quite watchable.

Rolling grenades while taking vodka shots? No. Motorcycle chases through a jungle rave? Surprisingly entertaining. Even if Cage was smacking opponents around with wheelie kicks.

That was until the bikes were miraculously equipped with water sleds to continue the pursuit across the river.

If you’re smiling at those quips then this might be for you.

The plot line was weak. Some mumbo jumbo about a Pandora’s box that can pull satellites out of the sky. Didn’t make sense. Didn’t care by the end. Got even worse when numerous xXX operatives crashed the party.

And yes, XXX 2 fans (Are there any?), there is a gratuitous cameo from one ice cold operative (Okay, confession time, I actually didn’t mind xXx: State of the Union. Say whaaattt).

The closing act was bearable as Cage and co. raced across gridlocked traffic to save the world. The mad highway punch up was a riot. Dancing around CGI’d cars and jumping across trucks. My God.

The laughable banter got better. If anything, it would have worked better if it was just Yen and Diesel. Rose and Padukone had their fiery bad ass moment in the finale BUT it wasn’t enough.

I can’t say I enjoyed it BUT it got more watchable as you accepted what it was. A mindless actioner that offered little BUT stupid moments.

I think it’s safe to say that franchise will be like its protagonist. Lost in the wilderness. Hopefully.

2/5

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*NEW* JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 REVIEW *NEW*

He’s back! But bigger and better?

After returning to the criminal underworld to repay a debt, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) discovers that a large bounty has been put on his life.

They certainly cranked the gun-fu up to 11 BUT “The Raid 2 of action movies”. I don’t think so.

The opening threw us right into the mix following straight on from the first film with our main man chasing after a motorcyclist to retrieve some medallion or something.

It didn’t really matter what he chasing after because it was all for a car. Remember the car? He didn’t actually get it back.

Does Peter Stormare (Prison Break) even realise he’s becoming a cliche of his own cliched character? Another hilarious generic Eastern European mob boss.

His comical rendition of his last encounter with the Matrix machismo was too much; “He killed a guy with a pencil. A f*cking pencil!”

The scrap yard sequence was ridiculous, OTT but it set up one thing. Old Keanu can still kick ass. It was like something out of a video game. Entrapped in a mosh pit of taxi cabs, waiting for a bigger and nastier villain to deliver the next punch.

The action set pieces were intense enough. BUT the only problem was that the first John Wick came out of the blue and revamped some of the old action cliches and made it into something different.

With the expectations a little higher, Chapter 2 didn’t quite meet up to them this time around. Don’t get me wrong, it still did the job and it is what it is.

A high octane punch em shoot em up but it still toyed aspects of Wick’s past that I wanted exploring. What was this impossible task?! Who decided these rules on territories and why isn’t Ian McShane (Deadwood) in this more?

Riccardo Scamarcio (Burnt) played the smug Santino well. Another unwanted blast from the past. Calling on an old debt to demand one last job from the Boogeyman.

Unfortunately, this was where the pace lagged for me. We had to watch Wick’s inevitable refusal and the predictable outcome that followed. Before reluctantly accepting the task at hand.

The Rome reconnaissance was watchable enough BUT the director stretched out the build up to the point that I was screaming for a shootout.

Less of the flat cryptic dialogue, more of the bang for your buck please!

For the animal lovers, the Boogeyman has a new companion in a loveable blue staffie. Does he suffer the same fate as his furry predecessor?

Well, there’s only one way to find out BUT I’m not saying.

The gun kung fu or gung-fu was brilliantly choreographed. Just when I thought certain scenes were getting a little repetitive, there would suddenly be a new creative and ultra-violent kill that had me wincing.

Stormare wasn’t kidding about that pencil!

Common (Smokin’ Aces) played a worthy adversary. I loved the camaraderie between him and Wick; “Consider this a professional courtesy”.

However, their initial (and incredibly brutal) fist fights soon went on too long and felt more like something out of the Peter Griffin vs Giant Chicken saga. Especially when they were rolling down the stairs. My God!

Ruby Rose (Orange is the New Black) had potential as a mute assassin BUT never really got going. Shame.

Laurence Fishburne was not in this enough. He stole the show in his minute cameo. I was disappointed that we couldn’t get one little Matrix quote from ol’ Morpheus.

A shady friend in Wick’s desperate time of need with an alarmingly impressive army of militant homeless men.

The fiery and frenetic closing act certainly made up for the lumbering middle act. It was everything I hoped from the get go.

Relentless, violent and bloody fun. Especially when the bounty was put on Wick’s head. Everybody in New York given the green light to take out Neo.

Mental. I don’t think it would be a spoiler to say that things have been left open for another.

And despite my grumbles, I will be looking forward to the next installment.

BUT is pace and a little more exploration into Wick’s past too much to ask? Don’t make just another generic shooter.

3/5