D.J. Caruso has a interesting career curve that seems to follow Rob Cohen's career. In 1993, after working as a crewman on John Badham's "Bird on a Wire" (1990), he inherited Rob Cohen's second unit director's job after Cohen bolted to direct "Dragon" The Bruce Lee Story" then develop "The Fast and the Furious" and "xXx".


Now Caruso find himself directing the first revisit to the action series "xXx" with the third installment "xXx: Return of Xander Cage". Could it be that we might see Caruso at the helm of on of the future "Fast & Furious" films? You never know. One thing is certain, he has a clear understanding of guilty pleasure action.

With a preposterous story laden with improbable stunts and motives, Caruso brings back Vin Diesel as Xander Cage, the first xXx. If you're not familiar with Xander, he is this ultra-extreme sport super stud who can fight, do amazing things on a skateboard, pleasure hundreds of beautiful women, and always land on his feet.


The first xXx earned $277 million on a $70 million budget meaning there needed to be a sequel. So two years later "xXx: State of the Union" was released, this time with Ice Cube as xXx Darius Stone. Both Vin Diesel and Rob Cohen signed up to do the sequel but bailed when they realized it was crap. Budgeted at $60 million, the sequel flopped when it only earned $26 million. Oops!


The series was put on hold for twelve years and considered dead in the water until F. Scott Frazier came up with this second sequel that brings back Xander Cage and briefly his handler Augustus Gibbons (Sam Jackson) along with a variety of lovely badass gals.

The film opens with a satellite crashing to earth and killing Gibbons while he is in the middle of recruiting another xXx team member, a soccer player who can make ordinary objects lethal weapons by soccer kicking them.


The film then jumps to an unknown secluded place with Xander climbing a communications tower and stealing a black box. He escapes, as it were, on his skateboard in one long amusing but completely impossible run until he gets to his destination. It is there, that he is recruited to return to help stop the guy who the CIA thinks killed Gibbons. Xiang (Donnie Chen)


Naturally the enemy is much more than Xiang and there are plenty of opportunities for Xander to kick butt and make quips. All to find what is being called Pandora's box, a computer add-on that can override communication satellites and turn them into weapons by bringing them down from the sky. The CIA is concerned that the enemy will be able to weaponize all 32-thousand satellites and rule the world... or something like that.


That one small statement is what helps make this film only marginally entertaining. The average viewer will naturally Google the question as to the number of satellites obiting the earth and come up with a much lower number; 2,271 satellites to be exact, one tenth of what the film stated. A smart filmographer would have included the correct number, just to give the film a inkling of authenticity.


The movie progresses, the number of xXx people grow, some with some amazing skills. They all are fighting each other as enemies, then suddenly uniting as one big tough team fighting against a common enemy, the CIA and director Jane Marke (Toni Collette). Included in the army of xXx's is the lovely Serena Unger (Deepika Padukone), Nicks (Kris Wu), and Talon (Tony Jaa) as Caruso and Paramount make sure to keep the growing Asian market happy.


Diesel does what Diesel does best and Padukone does a great job being his lust interest. The rest is by the numbers though well paced and never boring. But the story? Well.


"xXx: Retirn of Xander Cage" is infinitely more entertaining than the second xXx flick with enough action to somewhat mask the mediocre story and enough jokes to gloss over the marginal acting.   -- GEOFF BURTON