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xXx: Return of Xander Cage

If you can't beat James Bond, join him with special effects-laden gusto, innuendo-laden dialogue and outdated gender stereotypes. So says xXx: Return Of Xander Cage, the action-packed third chapter of a testosterone-fuelled franchise, which welcomes back the rippling abs of Vin Diesel as the titular extreme sports enthusiast more than 10 years after a second film in the series foundered without him. Screenwriter F Scott Frazier spells out a simple methodology through one of his thinly sketched characters: "Kick some ass, get the girl and try to look dope doing it." There are plenty of "girls" in the midst of the action, almost all of whom are reduced to whimpering sex objects at the sight of Diesel's muscular frame. Indeed, one intelligence officer - fetishised here as a ditzy bespectacled assistant - cannot resist sharing her S&M safe word to Cage during their first meeting in the hope she'll get to whisper it again to him in private. One early bedroom scene cuts abruptly to a rail cart tipping a full load of white granulated sugar. Subtle. An acrobatic assassin called Xiang (Donnie Yen) and his associates Serena (Deepika Padukone), Talon (Tony Jaa) and Hawk (Michael Bisping) steal technology codenamed Pandora's Box from a high-powered meeting of the National Security Agency led by Jane Marke (Toni Collette). "They just took out the best of the best like it was a Sunday brunch!" growls Marke to her superiors. They demand swift action to retrieve the top-secret device, which controls every military satellite in the world. The future of mankind hangs in the balance and the NSA needs a thrill-seeking daredevil to infiltrate Xiang's inner circle and avert global disaster. So Marke travels to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic to recruit Xander Cage (Diesel) back into the fold. Eventually, he answers the NSA's call to arms and recruits a posse of authority-flouting renegades, which includes sharp shooter Wolff (Ruby Rose), car crash addict The Torch (Rory McCann) and hedonist Nicks (Kris Wu). Aided by NSA gadget expert Becky (Nina Dobrev), Cage and his crack squad prepare for battle. xXx: Return Of Xander Cage punctuates a flimsy plot with death - and logic-defying acrobatics on land and sea, and director D.J. Caruso can't resist the chance to defy gravity too for a preposterous final showdown in the air. Diesel struts through the melee with a satisfied swagger. In one superfluous scene of softcore fantasy, his hunk discharges his lethal weapon several times to satisfy a harem of lust-crazed lovelies. "The things I do for my country," he grins lasciviously to camera. One of them is evidently suggesting that a woman's duty is to submit to a man, and preferably do it in thigh-length boots and figure-hugging shorts.