Former nightclub bouncer and light bulb telemarketer Mark Sinclair, better known as VIN DIESEL, is one of the biggest most bankable Hollywood action stars without having to do too much since successfully choosing high profile roles in untested franchise possibilities early in his career.
The first of three major franchise productions involving Vin (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 and Fast & Furious 8, still to come) currently in cinemas, XXX The Return of Xander Cage, has the resurrection of the super slick extreme sports government operative using his covert gravity defying skills to infiltrate high-tech criminals around the globe.
Left for dead at the end of the 2002 original, it’s a little surprising Diesel headlines this third installment after bowing out of the 2005 sequel XXX State of the Union in which Ice Cube took over as the adrenaline enthusiast agent although fans of that underrated film are in for a surprise here.
After appearing in an uncredited bit part during the Robert DeNiro & Robin Williams 1990 drama Awakenings, it wasn’t until Steven Spielberg basically handpicked Diesel to play the pivotal Private Caparzo in Saving Private Ryan that future roles began to simmer.
Now an animated cult film, The Iron Giant (1999) benefited from his deep dulcet tones, while a small role in Wall Street type financial drama, Boiler Room (2000) made an impression on critics.
Filmed in the remote Australian mining town of Coober Pedy, moderately budgeted science-fiction creature feature Pitch Black (2000) became a massive box office sensation launching the anti-hero Riddick who Diesel has returned to in two less successful sequels Chronicles of Riddick (2004) that astoundingly included Judi Dench in the cast and the much improved Riddick (2013).
The mid 1990s saw Vin Diesel appear in an array of unusually diverse roles including babysitting comedy from Disney, The Pacifier (2005), also crime comedy Find Me Guilty (2006) in which Vin has thick dark hair and gained several pounds for the role, then huge 2008 flop, the futuristic opus Babylon AD.
Earlier that decade, an unexpected miracle happened – the original XXX became a minor stateside hit and brought Vin Diesel to Australia to premiere the film at Fox Studios in Sydney on a promotional press junket where I got to interview the man himself even offering to take a before-its-time selfie with me on my disposable camera.
However it was in 2001 with the release of a small street racing action movie that the mighty Universal film studio had few expectations for, Fast and the Furious, that not only made its entire production budget on opening weekend, but the series continues on in full stride as the eighth installment releases April this year.
Diesel however did not return for the first sequel, co-star the late Paul Walker was given the reigns to put the pedal to the metal but he did make a surprise cameo at the end of part three Tokyo Drift (2006), signifying fan outcry for the return of Dominic Toretto was imminent.
Entering the Marvel comic ranks in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) as walking tree Groot was a master-stoke considering his only words of expression are, I Am Groot! Not afraid to foray into variable genres including horror, The Last Witch Hunter (2015) and recent underappreciated, misunderstood 2016 drama Billy Lynn’s Long half-time Walk, his most popular movies always seem to be of the slam-bam no holds barred action variety using the full effect of his large muscular frame and beaming smile.
XXX Return of Xander Cage is just that, forget logical plot, it’s all about the high scale set pieces with state of the art special effects with practical stunts designed to keep an audience breathless with the odd addition of referential humour.
Martial art exponents Tony Jaa (Ong Bak) and Donnie Yen (Rogue One) join the fray with two Aussies; rising star Ruby Rose (Orange is the New Black) and the perennial Toni Collette also co-star alongside a veteran of all three XX films, Samuel L. Jackson.
Perfect cinematic escapism.
Shane A. Bassett