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Movie Review

No one wants a satellite to fall on their head.

Those suckers are big, for one thing. And thanks to physics (thanks a lot, physics), they tend to turn into fiery balls of flaming fire as they slice through the atmosphere. While plenty of doomsday scenarios might worry us more—from nuclear war to zombie apocalypses to, according to Alfred Hitchcock, super-angry pigeons—falling satellites could admittedly put a serious crimp in our day, especially if said satellites were somehow aimed right at our noggins.

All of which makes Pandora's Box a big deal.

The Box, you see, is sort of a universal satellite remote control. You can use it to manipulate any one of 'em to do a host of nefarious things: To spy on someone, for example. Or to throw off their GPS coordinates. Or, most curiously, to fall from the sky. Indeed, the device allows the user to yank satellites down from orbit at the exact coordinates desired—which you'd think would be a super-hard thing to do and potentially violate the laws of physics and such. (Where are you when we really need you, physics?). But whatever. The point is, Pandora's Box is seriously dangerous. Heaven help us should it fall into the wrong hands.

Alas, such devices are forever falling into the wrong hands. And sure enough, this particular set of wrong hands sends a satellite screaming right into the sushi place where legendary Augustus Gibbons—head of the strangely-famous-yet-super-secret xXx spy agency—is recruiting a new would-be xXx member.

Hello, fiery flaming fireball. Goodbye, Mr. Gibbons.

Thankfully, Pandora's Box then falls into what appear to be the right hands—those of the United States government. Jane Marke, a high-powered U.S. intelligence bigwig, brings the device to an important bigwig meeting and tells everyone in the room that it must never fall into the wrong hands again.

In a staggering display of irony, the meeting is promptly invaded by a bevy of wrong hands—all of which are connected to leaping, punching, shooting, wisecracking bodies that kill, oh, 30 people or so, do some dramatic backflips and snag the Box.

Well. Now the world's noggins will never be safe from falling satellites, not unless someone can somehow find and confront those curiously charismatic ninja masters and pry the Box from their cold, dead, wrong hands. But that won't be easy, considering their formidable skills. As Marke says, "They took out the best of the best like it was a Sunday brunch."

So forget the best of the best. This is not a mission for Navy SEALs, for heaven's sake. To deal with these guys, they need a strike team with attitude. They need folks with more tattoos than skin, with rap sheets longer than a Full House marathon. They need Gibbons' old xXx team, headed by Mr. xXx himself, Xander Cage.

Too bad Xander's dead.

Or is he?

Positive Elements

Hey, I sure don't want a satellite bonking my head. You don't, either. So anyone who puts a stop to those sorts of shenanigans can't be all bad, right? Plus, there are some in this convoluted mess of a plot who actually want to destroy the Box, which, under the circumstances, seems like a good thing.

Spiritual Content

Gibbons' funeral is held in a church, and a gospel choir references God and Jesus in its rendition of "Oh Happy Day." Some xXx spies, present at the funeral, hum or even sing along. Another conversation is held in a church.

Sexual Content

Xander Cage is like the anti-James Bond—except, apparently, when it comes to his freakish appeal among women. Such is the power of his magnetism that even his creepy leers or cheesy come-ons aren't enough to send these scantily clad damsels away. While asking a former, beautiful, bikini-clad acquaintance for help, he suggests that she take a roll in the hay with him to foster trust. She turns him down, instead turning him over to her six … friends? Handmaidens? Whatever they are, it's suggested that Xander has satisfying sex with all of them. The next morning, they're all asleep in various stages of undress (nothing critical is shown, but we do see underwear, bare backs and a side shot of a breast or two). "The things I do for my country," Xander says, pulling a line almost directly from Bond.

Xander also has sex elsewhere with a nameless woman, complete with sultry kisses, sexualized movements and the suggestion of plenty of skin (though without overt nudity). His tech support helper, Becky, flirts with him awkwardly and brazenly, making several double entendres and telling him that her "safe word" (a word used to halt S&M encounters at the limit) is "kumquat." Xander's first meeting with enemy agent Serena is fraught with sexual tension, including her placing the barrel of a gun on his groin.

There's a suggestive line indicating that Adele, one of Xander's teammates, is a lesbian.

We see casual kissing among other characters, too, as well as what seems like an endless parade of women in bikinis, revealing eveningwear or other tight, skimpy garb. In one scene, the camera lingers over a woman in a super-small bathing suit as she emerges dripping from the water. A few other double entendres pepper the script, too, and there's a crude reference to masturbation.

Violent Content

Any incidental plot one finds in xXx is merely a device to get from one action sequence to another. It'd be incredibly tedious to catalog every moment of violence here, and honestly, this film isn't worth it. So we'll just hit most of this section with a broad brush.

There are countless frantic fistfights and mostly bloodless shootouts here, leaving dozens of fatalities in their wakes. (We see only one bloody bullet hole—in the forehead of the victim.) One such battle takes place in a diving plane, rendering the whole scrum momentarily weightless. Xander battles one of his antagonists—armed with supercharged metallic fists—in the airplane bathroom and tricks his adversary into punching the toilet, which ultimately results in his being sucked into the stratosphere.

At least four people are knocked out by a motorcycle, while another is cold-cocked by a flying boat. Xander, Serena and martial arts expert Xiang play a game of hot potato with live grenades, later using the grenades to blow up some Russian invaders. (Don't puzzle over why the Russians suddenly show up; your brain cells have better uses.) A melee on a busy roadway leads to some incredibly spectacular crashes and, presumably, a bevy of civilian casualties. Two people get hit by oncoming cars (though they survive remarkably unscathed), and others bounce off the tops of vans and semis.

Before being recruited to Xander's team, Adele was in Africa, shooting big-game bow hunters in the legs and rear and watching as lions finish them off. (The subsequent maulings take place offscreen.) Another teammate keeps a running tally of how many vehicles he's crashed—commemorating his 200th with a selfie.

Satellites apparently immolate several people. Planes crash into falling satellites. People fall from great heights—sometimes with parachutes, sometimes without. Explosions explode. Waves pull motorcycling water skiers underwater. Blanks are fired into worried crowds.

Crude or Profane Language

We hear one f-word and about 25 s-words. We also hear more than a dozen uses each of "a--," "d--n" and "h---," along with "b--ch," "b--tard" and "p-ss." God's name is misused six times, half of those with "d--n."

Drug and Alcohol Content

Xander mostly stays away from liquor while working. When he's at a wild, booze-drenched party in the Philippines, he orders two cranberry club sodas—one for him and another for his party hearty partner, Zhou. (The latter later skulks off and finds some real liquor, promptly pouring himself a glass.) He asks the party's host for a strong drink, but when he and Serena sit down to quaff the liquor, Xander tosses the liquid over his shoulder when no one's looking.

But that doesn't stop folks from trying to set him up with whatever mind-altering substances, legal or not, he might need. When Jane Marke tells Xander that Becky can get him anything he needs in under an hour, she says that's not true for illegal drugs: Those, she says, can be had in 15 minutes.

Other characters drink beer. We hear about someone getting drunk on tequila in Mexico.

Other Negative Elements

Xander's team members are horrible role models on a host of levels—cartoonish characters seemingly drawn to appeal to 14-year-old anarchists. They despise authority. And Xander regularly mocks U.S. soldiers himself, even when some of them are assigned to work with him. Xander believes that the world consists only of "rebels and tyrants," and the film underscores that philosophical stance at every turn, vaguely suggesting that if you're not breaking various laws, you're clearly part of a tyrannical system.

We see Xander steal a cable device to allow a poor community to watch a soccer game. (He could admittedly just pay for it, but says he doesn't want to "line the pockets of some boardroom billionaires.") One of his teammates, Tennyson, gets arrested for crashing into an ATM machine—a crime apparently committed less in an effort to score easy cash than to score points against The Man.

Xander's fight with an antagonist near an airplane toilet leads to one or two groan-worthy references.

Conclusion

xXx: Return of Xander Cage is a ridiculous movie. And I suspect fans of the franchise wouldn't have it any other way. Rarely does one go to a flick like this in the hope of seeing excellent acting or gaining insight into the human condition.

No, fans of movies like these want to see fists fly and people fall. They want to see stunts galore and mayhem aplenty and, on that level, I suppose, Return succeeds. This is the sort of movie that makes your standard shoot-'em-up videogame look subtle, the Fast and Furious franchise (star Vin Diesel's other claim to fame) look like a Jane Austen novel.

But for discerning moviegoers, be they fans of fine films or Christians who want to safeguard their hearts from problematic content, this flick is a silly, schlocky, salacious mess.

Women are ogled and objectified. People are slaughtered with a smile. The narrative—or what little excuse for one we get here—reflects not only a healthy skepticism of government, but a gleeful desire to tear down whatever barrier or institution Xander and his mates might find the least bit restrictive.

The movie, what with its institutional cynicism and its embrace of life-snuffing chaos, made me a little sad. Perhaps this is giving xXx too much credit. But it feels to me that if this movie's worldview is so appealing these these days, we have a lot more to worry about than simply satellites crashing down on our heads.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults

Credits

Rating

PG-13

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Vin Diesel as Xander Cage; Donnie Yen as Xiang; Deepika Padukone as Serena Unger; Kris Wu as Nicks; Ruby Rose as Adele Wolff; Tony Jaa as Talon; Nina Dobrev as Becky Clearidge; Rory McCann as Tennyson Torch; Toni Collette as Jane Marke; Samuel L. Jackson as Augustus Gibbons

Distributor

Paramount Pictures

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

January 20, 2017

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Paul Asay

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