XXX: Return of Xander Cage *
Dir: D. J. Caruso
Starring: Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone and Kris Wu.
Who wanted Xander Cage back? Is it you? It sure as hell isn’t me. But he’s here anyway, extreme-sports and lunkhead-espionage skills in tow. This cinematic equivalent of drool is the third in the series that started in 2002 by introducing Vin Diesel as Xander Cage, an extreme sports badass recruited by an NSA boss (Samuel L. Jackson) to go undercover and flex his muscles. OK, the assignment had something to do with Russians. But who remembers? Even Diesel wisely sat out the horrendous 2005 sequel (with Ice Cube) and found a career churning out mostly exciting Fast & Furious movies.
Now, just when you thought the woefully dated XXX franchise had been cryogenically frozen to prevent further infection to moviegoers, Diesel is back in the role he should never have played in the first place. The bad guys, led by Serena (Deepika Padukone), Xiang (Donnie Yen), and Talon (a wasted Tony Jaa) have stolen something that can weaponize satellites. Soon enough, they make things personal for our Creatine-gobbling hero. Toni Collette, who is way too good for this crap, also shows up as Agent Marke, another suit barking orders at Cage. The Australian actress must be wondering how she went from being nominated for Oscars and Emmys to starring in this toxic fluffball.
Director D.J. Caruso shoots the action so incoherently that you don’t know where you are and who’s getting hit. The great Yen, so stellar in Rogue One, brings some Hong Kong flash to his scenes, which only makes you wish he’d starred in this movie and not Diesel, who steps into every scene looking for stuff to bust up. There were times when I thought Diesel might be more than a human monster truck. In Saving Private Ryan (1998), Boiler Room (2000) and especially Sidney Lumet’s Find Me Guilty (2006), he hinted there might be a real actor inside that muscled shell. Instead, Diesel has chosen to keep selling stupid to audiences who are inexplicably eager to gobble it up. Damn shame.
– Peter Travers
Kaabil * ½
Dir: Sanjay Gupta
Starring: Hrithik Roshan, Yami Gautam, Ronit Roy and Rohit Roy.
Can Hrithik Roshan act? No question about it. Can Hrithik hack it, in Kaabil, a film that gives him every opportunity to gain lost ground? That’s a toughie. Because apart from the leading man, there is not one thing to keep us with the film.
Two strands knit Kaabil. One is the romance between two people who cannot see. Rohan (Hrithik Roshan) and Supriya (Yami Gautam) meet on a blind date, dreadful pun fully intended, and discover feelings that will last a lifetime. Except a tragedy befalls the couple, and then things gone awry.
The other track is rape-and-revenge, a combo not seen for a while in big budget Bollywood with their pretty, safe love stories. Kaabil dusts it off and resurrects it, but brings back every single cliche that goes with the territory: lascivious hoods, intimidating netas, and cops on the take.
The challenge with doing a film whose beats are stacked from its opening frame is to insert surprise. Instead, Kaabil plays it strictly by the numbers, and you can see everything coming from a mile.
Yami Gautam’s act includes a permanent unblinking wide-eyed stare. She is light on her feet but seems to have got caught in a series of no account roles after Vicky Donor. Rohit and Ronit Roy are the baddies, and both come off as they have been instructed to: the former a goonda, the latter a grim, glowering local heavyweight.
And did anyone tell those who wrote this film just how distasteful their insistence on using ‘andha’ and ‘andhi’ repeatedly, is? To use the phrase to express crassness is one thing, but as a constant descriptive just plain unacceptable.
– Shubhra Gupta
Rating system: *Not on your life ** Hardly worth the bother ** ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only *** Good enough for a look see *** ½ Recommended viewing **** Don’t miss it **** ½ Almost perfect ***** Perfection