Movie Review: “xXx” proves there’s no such thing as “clean Diesel”

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Not all Vin Diesel franchises are created equal.

Then again, maybe they are. Paramount tries to clone the Diesel “Fast/Furious” formula with “xXx: Return of Xander Cage,” a ham-fisted, instantly-awful action revival back from back in Diesel’s heyday.

It’s got breathlessly shot and cut action beats that defy the laws of physics — improbable chases and impossible escapes. Diesel’s agent Xander Cage is surrounded by a United Nations of supporting players — Indian, Chinese, Thai and, um, Australian.

And every “Want to be a Model?” casting agency in the Eastern and Western hemisphere is emptied of applicants as the producers — lonely men who prey on the “aspiring” — populate ridiculously cosmopolitan parties on jungle isles in the Philippines with scantily clad beauties of every skinny race and genetic description.

The script, by somebody billed as “F. Scott Frazier” (ROFL), peppers the screen with bullet point descriptions of characters, comical “dossiers” to describe them.

Xander’s old boss, Augustus Gibbons’ “Karoake Go to” is “What a Wonderful World.”

The :”Call of Duty” video game handle of the lesbian sniper he recruits for his team, Adele (Ruby Rose)?

“Lady_Boner.”

Isn’t that cute? “Ridonculous” seems more apt.

When villains get their hands on “Pandora’s Box,” a gadget that enables them to crash satellites into precise impact points on Earth (taking out targets and destroying the satellite at the same time), Cage is tracked down by Gibbons’ boss (Toni Collette).

“It’s time to be a patriot,” she pitches.

“Patriotism is dead. There’s only rebels and tyrants, now.”

The re-activated xXx pulls in other xXx agents — Adele, a DJ-fighter-“baller” Nicks (Kris Wu) and a getaway driver (Rory McCann, Tennyson (“Longest relationship: With his rugby mouthguard”) and goes after a team led by Donnie Yen.

What’s the only thing “Rogue One” and “xXx” have in common? They’re both stolen by the martial arts master Yen. He doesn’t play blind or have any clever lines here. but his dazzling brawls are the best thing in the movie.

x2Diesel, slimmed down, smiles and smirks his way through beefy come-ons, group sex scenarios and utterly impossible stunts involving skiing off a microwave tower, skateboards and a motorcycle that becomes a personal watercraft, a “Jet Ski” by another name.

“The things I do for my country.”

Collette wears lots of white suits (Hillary?) and Nina Dobrev dons glasses to transform herself into a knockout tech nerd improbably attracted to the over-the-top burly and 40something xXx.

The gadgets are ho-hum. None of it’s funny — intentionally funny, anyway. And little of it makes much sense, except in the most cynical “Let’s reach the Asian, Indian etc. markets by making Deepika Padukone, a model trying her hand at swagger, ‘the girl.'”

“Return of Xander Cage” adds up to a movie “all jacked up on Red Bull and Mountain Dew.” And we all know how bad that stuff is for you.

1half-star

MPAA Rating:PG-13 for extended sequences of gunplay and violent action, and for sexual material and language

Cast: Vin Diesel, Toni Collette, Deepika Padukone, Donnie Yen, Tony Jaa, Ruby Rose, Rory McCann, Nina Dobrev

Credits:Directed by D.J. Caruso, script by F. Scott Frazier. A Paramount release.

Running time: 1:47

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