Photo: Paramount

Could we have another Fast & Furious on our hands? xXx: Return Of Xander Cage seems to think so. Boasting the same sort of multiracial, mixed-gender casting that’s a hallmark of Vin Diesel’s other gleefully over-the-top action franchise, Return Of Xander Cage brings together a motley crew of good-looking, gun-toting lawbreakers—a squad, if you will—on a mission that’s pure suicide, if you catch our drift. Throw in some Kingsman: The Secret Service-style cheekiness and the flashy bullet-time effects popularized by The Matrix three years before xXx’s 2002 debut, and you’ve got a basic idea of what director D.J. Caruso is working with here. Does he take any of these elements seriously? Hell no. And thank goodness, because otherwise it would be unbearable.

Presiding over all the extreme sports action and thumping electronic beats is Diesel’s Xander Cage, a lunkhead James Bond with a smoking-hot babe in every port and a calf tattoo that the camera keeps lingering on for whatever reason. Presumed dead after the events of the first film, it turns out that Cage is still very much alive, and using his secret agent super-skills to ski through the jungle and do skateboard tricks down the side of mountains in order to help the poor people of Brazil steal cable. If that last sentence seems nonsensical, buckle up—we’re just getting started.

Cage is recruited to re-join the xXx program by Jane Marke (Toni Collette), an agent for either the CIA or NSA—who cares, really—who’s left holding the proverbial bag after her colleague Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson, who doesn’t seem to mind being typecast as a wisecracking mentor) is hit by a falling satellite and dies. (More on that in a minute.) After a brief pitch that basically amounts to, “what, are you chicken or something?” Marke welcomes Cage back into the xXx program, which has all the resources of a CIA or MI6 but none of the accountability. In practical terms, that means a license to kill and rooms full of cool high-tech weapons supervised by Becky (Nina Dobrev), xXx’s hot-but-dorky Q equivalent full of aw-shucks self-depreciation and Coachella jokes.

Cage, of course, insists on recruiting his own team, which includes animal-loving sniper Adele Wolff (Ruby Rose), techie DJ Nicks (Kris Wu), bleach-blond wild card Talon (Tony Jaa), and British stereotype Tennyson Torch (Rory McCann), the Jai Courtney of the group. There are a couple of other ones, too, but much like the neglected members of Suicide Squad, they don’t get as much screen time—or freeze-framed title cards with their names, specialties, and likes and dislikes—and thus are easy to forget. This colorful bunch is sent to the Philippines to confront another colorful bunch, this one composed of bad guys and led by Xiang (Donnie Yen) and his sultry foil Serena (Deepika Padukone).

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Xiang’s gang is in possession of something called Pandora’s Box, a device that has the power to kill anyone on Earth by literally making a satellite fall out of the sky and onto their head. Cage quickly tracks down his nemesis at a floating rave for arms dealers, and after chasing each other on motorcycles with waterskis strapped to the bottom, the truth comes out: Xiang is also a member of xXx, and wants to keep Pandora’s Box out of the hands of government agents who will abuse its power. From there on out, the movie is nothing but back-to-back action scenes, jumping from warehouse shootout to sky-high martial arts showdown and back again.

The essential question here, of course, is how kickass those action scenes are, since no one’s watching an xXx movie for the plot. (That particular assumption may explain how loose the continuity remains throughout.) The answer is variable: While Jaa’s and Yen’s martial arts virtuosity doesn’t get the showcase it deserves in shaky action scenes full of quick cuts, Diesel’s cruder charms result in a couple of brutally exciting moments good for a lowest common denominator thrill. That same approach carries through to the bluntly clichéd badass dialogue, laden with references to Red Bull, Mountain Dew, and getting laid. (“It would be a wonderful world, if we stopped doing bad shit to it,” Jackson opines in one of the film’s more philosophical moments.) It’s inelegant, sure. But for a movie whose intended effect is not unlike that of mainlining an energy drink, it’s also appropriate.