Sequels are the theme this time around, and action movie sequels at that.
Film #107: The Escape Plan 2: Hades
The first movie in this series was sold on the basis that it was the first real on screen team up of Stallone and Schwarzenegger, but the Austrian Oak decided not to come back, so this sees Stallone paired with Dave Bautista, who is doing pretty well as an action hero but I think he’d admit he’s not Schwarzenegger level.
Stallone plays Breslin, the head of a private security company, and when one of his guys is captured he investigates, discovering his friend is held in a super fancy prison run by computers, designed by a disgruntled ex-employee of his. Breslin needs to break his friend out of the joint, but it’s supposedly inescapable. Can Breslin prove the man he fired wrong and save his man?
The problem with this movie is that’s rather dull. There’s a repetitive aspect to the action sequences and the villain is pretty bland too. Similarly, both leads are absent for large stretches of the movie, with the focus shifting to Huang Xioaming’s rather uninteresting character and Jesse Metcalfe, as another member of Breslin’s team, isn’t given a lot to do. There’s no sense of fun to anything here and the overly serious tone just makes it seem even less interesting. 4/10.
Film #111: The Condemned 2
The first Condemned movie was a fairly low budget action flick starring Stone Cold Steve Austin as a man convicted of murder and sent to a remote island where the condemned men would have to fight to the death for the audience watching online. It wasn’t amazing by any means, but it was a simple, effective concept and benefited from Austin’s solid work as an action hero and Vinnie Jones as the psychopathic villain.
That’s the problem with the sequel, it lacks a decent villain. For an action movie to work you need a physical threat who’s a challenge for the hero. Here, however, the major bad guy doesn’t have any identifiable goons, and isn’t a physical match for Randy Orton, the latest wrestler to try his hand at movies.
The Rock has nothing to worry about, as Orton isn’t convincing as the Bounty Hunter who finds himself hunted by former allies as part of a gangster’s revenge plot. There’s a good idea in there, of old friends being forced to fight, but we never get any real sense of the team being that close or of there being a problem in hunting down their old leader. It’s diverting enough because it keeps the action going, but it feels cheap and a little outdated. Orton should definitely stick to the squared circle. 4/10.
Film #113: xXx: Return of Xander Cage
When Vin Diesel was first emerging as the new action hero in the early ’00s he had three potential franchises to ride to success- Riddick, The Fast and The Furious and xXx. It’s kinda impressive that initially he cocked all three up. Diesel made a sequel to Pitch Black, which was not good, but then stepped away from the other series. However, a few years later he’d go back to all of them, with mixed results.
Top of the pile are the Fast movies, which has become a long running and massively successful franchise. Riddick, the third outing for the silver eyed space criminal was flawed, but a step back in the right direction.
This, however, is the runt.
The original xXx premise was engagingly daft, a brash extreme sports athlete is recruited to be a spy, cue death defying stunts and Vin Diesel kicking arse. It wasn’t amazing, but it was fun enough. The second movie, with Ice Cube stepping in for Diesel, was a generic action thriller and this third film, with Diesel back as Cage is woeful.
And worst of all is that the major weakness is Diesel himself. I think he’s trying to make Cage a swaggering badass but he just comes off as an arrogant dickhead. He cracks awful gags, showboats and the whole “I do things differently” thing is milked dry. And, no disrespect to Diesel, but it’s a stretch to imagine that 80% of the women he meets want to shag him. It feels like a vanity project, or even like the teenage daydream of a young Diesel where he’s the cool, womanising hero.
The rest of the cast are all pushed to the sidelines, including a “just picking up my check” cameo from Samuel L Jackson, a “I’m not going to put any effort into this at all” turn from Toni Collette and a “I’m going to wince in embarrassment when I remember some of the dialogue they gave me in this movie” appearance by Nina Dobrev as an over excitable “nerd” scientist who is all flustered being in the presence of Cage.
It’s a film that tries waaaaay to hard to be cool and thinks it’s far funnier than it is, making it a rather grating experience. Extremely poor. 2/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.