It's been 15 years since gravel-voiced Vin Diesel became an action star with the one-two punch of The Fast and the Furious and xXx.

While the car-powered series has racked up seven high-earning sequels, Diesel's 2002 extreme sports-meets-espionage thriller franchise attempted to carry on without him after the initial hit.

It died a box office death with 2005's Ice Cube-starring Lee Tamahori-directed xXx: State of the Union.

But as that title says, Diesel's Xander Cage has returned, the reports of his death in Union as well as a DVD extras short film, greatly exaggerated.


He's back to save the world with feats of mountain jungle-skiing, motorcycle-surfing and parachute-free skydiving. Not only that, Diesel wants to build a Furious-like franchise from the neglected xXx chassis.

On board, here, he's got everyone from famous Brazilian soccer players to American footballers to South East Asian martial arts heroes to Chinese pop stars to Games of Thrones giants to Bollywood divas to Aussie actresses, all giving this international sales pitch. As well as conventional and 3D versions, there's also a Hindi version to attract the following of Indian star Deepika Padukone.

So, you've almost got to admire its multi-national marketing scope as it heads from the Dominican Republic to London to the Philippines with its Hollywood-Chinese financial backing. It's heck of an international box office business proposition.

But as a popcorn-scoffing brain-unzipping action movie? It's awfully tedious and not even dumb-good. Just dumb.

Sure, it starts off funny, care of Samuel L. Jackson returning, briefly as Cage's agency handler in the opening.

It almost gives this hope this is going to play as a Deadpool-like parody of itself.

Ruby Rose as Adele Yusef in xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE. Photos/Supplied
Ruby Rose as Adele Yusef in xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE. Photos/Supplied

But that would require a script rather than the get-us-to-the-next-random-stunt checklist this seems to be operating on.

And perhaps fittingly for such an international film, its dialogue does seem to sound like it's a movie with English as a second language.


Another problem is Diesel's tattooed adrenalin junkie is nowhere as charming as the actor clearly believes he is, especially in scenes with various scantily clad, mostly nameless and far younger women that are meant to be a nod to old-school Bond but just come off as creepy.

While most of his new eventual team mates like Padukone and martial arts star Donnie Yen (also seen being much cooler in Rogue One) have keep their charisma in check against Diesel's smarmy lead guy.

The movie is so busy building its A-Team for future chapters - as well as adding one memorable cameo - it forgets a few things along the way. Like, a villain or character motivations.

Though some random heavily-armed Russians do turn up at some point. They are soon dispensed with.

Yes, there are a few impressive modestly digitally enhanced stunts with Diesel gives hope for middle-aged men on skateboards everywhere. Some, though, like a motorcycle takedown involving acrobatic Thai star Tony Jaa just turn up for no apparent reason.

And you have to admire Toni Colette for keeping a straight face throughout, as another agency wonk who gives Diesel his mission. That's something to do with finding a device which enables bad dudes to drop satellites on the world below with impossible precision and improbable explosiveness.

By contrast, Diesel's re-entry as the xXx-man just creates a dull thud.

Cast: Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Toni Collette, Samuel L. Jackson, Deepika Padukone Ruby Rose
Director: D.J. Caruso
Rating: M (violence and offensive language)
Running time: 107 mins
Verdict: X-cruciating