“XXX: The Return of Xander Cage” (2017)

“XXX: The Return of Xander Cage” is the kind of dumb movie smart people make when they’re stoned.   I don’t mean roaring falling-down drunk. I mean sitting around doing shots and smoking Purple Urkle (specifically referenced), and asking what kind of madness Vin Diesel’s alter-ego Xtreme Sports legend/Master spy could be up to.    Basically, there is some nonsense about a device that makes satellites fall out of the sky, forcing Xander from retirement (he’d been pretending to be dead) to catch the impossibly talented team  (captained by the wonderful Donnie Yen) who stole it.  Forcing him to create his own counter-team (including luscious and dangerous Bollywood star Deepika Padukone) to get it back.  In the process, bad jokes abound, impossible stunts aplenty thunder across the IMAX screen (if you accept the challenge) and Xander beds more women in the first act than James Bond does in a decade.  No exaggeration.   (This last point has been a point of irritation with several critics.  Hey, it is hella more likely than the number of bullets dodged and explosions survived intact in any given action sequence).  He’s a superhero, right?  And just as Spider-Man has the proportionate sexual energy of an arachnid…you knew that, right?

 

The movie also gives us some pretty damned fine ass-kicking across the gender spectrum (reminescent of Root and Shaw on Person of Interest), so I figure it balances.  But then, the part of me that enjoys this nonsense is pretty adolescent.   And make no mistake: I enjoyed it more than not. But cannot exactly RECOMMEND it.  I mean, this is some really lazy, stupid stuff on one level…but it is what it is, and if you go in warned…I mean, what the hell, its XANDER CAGE, right? And if that thought juices you, you won’t be sorry.  On the other hand…be warned.   For those who can dial their heads back to 12 years old…probably an “8”

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WARNING!   SAMBO ALERT.   Here, of course, is where I discuss the film from the context of my overall theory regarding cinema and race.  Proceed with caution.

Racially ambiguous Vin Diesel is a fascinating case. By my eyes he is 1/4=1/8th black, in that Octaroon-Quadroon insanity which, by the Contamination racial theory that destroyed my mother, makes him black.  He arguably shaved his head to deny viewers the curly hair data they need to interpret the olive skin, so that he can plausibly play Italians and be “white”.  Or as I said: ambiguous.   IF you consider him black, then he cracked that “100 million club” before “Creed” with movies like the original XXX and “Fast and the Furious”.  But if you do that, you are defining the maximum amount of Melanin or the darkest skin one can have and still be considered fully human.  I prefer to reject the notion, since someone with 1/8 white blood isn’t white, the only way someone with 1/8 black blood should be considered “black” is by the racist “one drop makes you whole” theory which was, my friends, no compliment.  It was the “a little tiny turd spoils a great big punch bowl theory,” promulgated by whites and culturally absorbed by brainwashed slaves and former slaves, then used to help form political blocks capable of confronting that racism.   American descendants of slaves resisted being broken into a category like “coloured” (as in South Africa) which allowed the rulers to play darker-skinned folk against each other.  Good for us!

 

But if the original XXX had some very nice nookie, what was predictable when the sequel, XXX: State of the Union (starring a snarling Ice Cube) was announced?   What my theory predicted was that the sex would be cut out, as it was in the remake of Shaft, Bad Boys, and countless other films.   And that as in those films, lazy narrative excuses would be offered (in “Shaft” it was that Toni Collette’s brothers were along for the ride.  In “Bad Boys” it was the “hysterical” identity mix-up between Martin Lawrence and Will Smith, in “Bad Boys 2” it was that Will Smith had to conceal his relationship with Martin Lawrence’s sister.  Hah hah!  What fun.   Unless you predicted it in advance, in which case you’re simply watching the machinations of a board room manipulating the script for the comfort of the audience).

 

In XXX: State of the Union they didn’t even bother with an excuse.  Here’s this alpha testosterone factory, fresh out of prison, and when a beautiful (white) woman asks him if there is ANYTHING else she can do for him…he asks for a cheeseburger.   Seriously.   The audience laughs.  I sit there in the dark, stewing over one of the lamest, most insulting lines I’ve ever heard.    Knowing that it fits the pattern perfectly.

 

And…Vin Diesel, Stealth Bro, takes the lead again.  What is predictable?  Plenty of nookie. Absolutely.   And Return of Xander Cage didn’t disappoint.   I’ve watched this process for over thirty years, and until CREED it never disappointed.   Was 100% predictable.   And no, it isn’t just “Hollywood.”  I distinctly remember July 4th, 1990 I saw “Die Hard 2” in Westwood, and they were running coming attractions for “Mo Better Blues” and there is a scene of Denzel Washington making love to a woman.   I was the only black person in the theater, and in an evil mood.   Instead of watching the screen, I turned around and looked at the audience.   All the women in the audience were leaning forward, smiling.   All the (white) men I could see were pressing BACK into their seats, away from the screen, scowling.  I’ve conducted this experiment many times since then, and the reaction has gotten less extreme (thank God) but the implications were obvious.  No, it doesn’t happen that way if the guy onscreen is white.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work the same way with black men watching white men engage in reproductive behavior: the brain-washing is powerful.

 

This is ugly stuff, and I look at the statistics as revelatory of the “invisible hand” of racism in America, the images that people are willing to absorb as pleasure when their guard is down and they aren’t answering surveys.  I connect it to genetic and cultural competition, and perception of shared humanity. Tie it with statistics of police violence, economics, incarceration rates and perceptions of things like the Trayvon Martin case.

 

Can I “prove this” to the satisfaction of all?  No, and I have no interest.  I’m happy with those who have eyes to see–most of those who would like some more thorough analysis wouldn’t do a damned thing differently even if you conducted the experiments or crunched the data.  They simply have intellectual curiosity.  Frankly, I think a lot of them just want to slow down the process of action by asking you to jump through another couple of hoops.

 

The XXX situation is a case where the behavior could be predicted, as well as the past results. Doesn’t mean it is true, but that would require entering the hearts and minds, the secret and sometimes unconscious drives of all involved: writers, producers, audiences.  But I’m happy with predictive and explanatory capacity, even as I grasp that I can’t be “certain” that this particular instance is indeed “guilty.”   Not really “guilty”–human beings are what they are, and what I’m perceiving here is probably a near-universal issue with human perception.  It helps me to anticipate what I’m likely to experience in my life, and helps to push back against the blind (and sometime venomous) voices that say: “the playing field is level. The problem is just YOU” one hears, and will hear a lot more in the days to come.

 

No, it isn’t level, and never has been.  I can make my peace with that, but will not remain silent as people lie about it.

 

Namaste,

Steve

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