Extreme SPY

107 min. | PG-13

Daredevil operative Xander Cage is the millennial generation’s answer to James Bond. Trading in 007’s tuxedo and martini for a tank top and a shot of adrenaline, the tatted-up muscleman who beds every scantily clad babe he meets never breaks a sweat, even when skiing down a lush jungle mountainside or free-falling without a parachute. He’s one super cool dude.

In this so-so sequel resurrecting the extreme sports athlete turned NSA agent, the suits once again enlist a reluctant Cage (Vin Diesel) for a mission, this time to retrieve a doomsday device called Pandora’s Box, which can send rogue satellites plummeting to Earth and otherwise upend the world order.

Executed by an array of seemingly invincible characters with shifting alliances, the operation is overseen by an ice-blonde intelligence officer played by a depressingly miscast Toni Collette, who registers her disdain for the ragtag crew by pursing her lips. When required to utter some of the film’s more unutterable dialogue (“We need someone who can walk into a tornado and come out the other side like it was a gentle breeze”), the usually delightful Collette sounds like she’s phonetically speaking a foreign language. Not even Judi Dench could sell these lines.

The stunt work is the best thing going here, just as in the first film of the franchise in which Diesel originated the role of X back in 2002. A relatively successful performer since then, Diesel lacks the screen presence of Arnold Schwarzenegger, an actor of limited talents who nevertheless epitomized the contemporary action hero in popcorn cinema for two decades through the power of his sheer will. Diesel’s subdued energy rarely commands the screen; you’re often looking at him only because that’s where director points the camera.

At best, Diesel competently gets the job done, which is to play second fiddle to a bunch of gunfire, explosions, and a few interesting extreme maneuvers, though in a scene in which he plays Russian roulette with live hand grenades, he seems to be having a genuinely good time. Aside from that and a few rad stunts, this xXx rarely marks the spot.