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Review: Deepika kicks ass in xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage

If you are a Deepika Padukone loyalist, watch xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage for her, advises Raja Sen.

One has to feel at least a bit sorry for Vin Diesel.

Diesel, following franchises like xXx and The Fast And The Furious, represented a new kind of mainstream action hero: a lunk-headed leading man, a swiss-army-knife of brains and brawn.

He’d rappel down the skyscraper, punch out a squad of guys, and get the last word in edgeways.

However, Diesel was always hard to watch if his script included more than three words of dialogue -- with three words he is, as we know, immaculate -- and he was soon overtaken at his own game by such big-screen titans as Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, a man with enough screen presence and swagger to make the universe giggle. 

Now Diesel looks like the me-too player, and nowhere as cool as the big guy. If he was a rapper he’d be called Little Dwayne. 

xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage is one of those obviously harebrained actioners, a film that isn’t scripted as much as enacted out with action figures.

However, just like diverse communities are thrilled to see racially diverse Barbie dolls that represent them better, we here have Deepika Padukone stepping up as the edgy tough desi, who wears dominatrix boots on a beach, shoots straight and -- this must be said -- talks like she wants a job at the Kwik-E-Mart. 

Padukone always spoke differently from her peers.

In an old profile I’d done, (external link) I had singled out the way she “pronounces her apostrophes,” and in her Hollywood debut, the actress -- who has enough screen presence to drown in -- turns up both the heat and the accent. Out West she’s evidently chosen to amp up her exoticity, and this might not be a bad move. Her character Serena is basically a Bond girl. 

Which is why it’s a shame this kickassery takes place in a film that exists purely in manservice, a film so beholden to its leading man that not just do dozens of women throw themselves voluntarily on the oaf, but bad guys have trouble slagging him off.

At one point someone with a gun to his head insults him by calling him -- um -- 'Hero.'

Everything comes up Diesel so often in this film I was wondering what would happen if a Bollywood-pampered actor like, say, Ajay Devgn watched it, not least because Diesel and Padukone have a scene showing each other various lion tattoos. Playing Singham-Singham, basically. 

The film is a string of stunts, and if you haven’t watched an xXx film before, dear lucky reader, suffice it to say that it’s like one of Akshay Kumar’s endless string of Khiladi movies, save for the charismatic hero and the annoyingly catchy songs.

Diesel’s Xander is a daredevil who knows it all, having gotten his start zipping around being cool on a skateboard -- like a follicly challenged McFly. 

Now, he and various other talents, apparently too cool for jailtime, must save the world and take orders from -- you guessed it -- Samuel L Jackson. 

Starting up, I thought this xXx might actually be a breeze, thanks to the one and only Toni Collette channeling Posh Spice to play the villain, but she’s weighed down by a 3D film where unmemorable action sequences drown out her superbly sardonic eyebrow tilts.

While on the 3D, it shamefully renders Donnie Yen’s blindingly cool fight scenes redundant, since even though the actor is doing ‘em for real, they feel computer generated and synthetic. 

If you are a Padukone loyalist, watch it for her.

Watch it for her on a bigger canvas than she’s been on, and for an Australian actress named Ruby Rose, who looks lethal the way only those with turquoise-tinged hair can, and for the two of them going down a hallway with guns in hand, badass girls going full metal Contra.

There are times when director DJ Caruso’s camera seems to stare too long at Padukone, and at the intensity in her fiery eyes. Can’t blame him. It might not be a fine film, but our Badass Indian Barbie did good in this cheesy action-figure extravaganza.

Diesel just gets in the way -- probably because Padukone is electric.

Rediff Rating: