Apparently I’m supposed to dislike this aggressively pompous and unrelentingly silly movie a lot more than I did. And, come to think of it, maybe I really should. But I’m perhaps cutting The Chronicles of Riddick some slack because I liked it so much more than I did the last three Vin Diesel offerings foisted upon me by Hollywood. I mean, compared to A Man Apart, this new film is almost as important as it would like to think it is.
Or possibly I have a need to cut director David Twohy a break (even after his script for Impostor), as he’s the author of one of my favorite ’80s guilty pleasures, Warlock (any movie with Julian Sands as the Son o’ Satan and Richard E. Grant as a time-traveling witch-hunter out to catch him is OK by me.) Most likely, though, it’s just the fact that I don’t hold the first Riddick picture, Pitch Black, in all that high esteem to begin with.
I only caught up with Pitch Black this past week. And while I found it an efficient little horror flick that finally clued me in, more or less, on the appeal of the Diesel man (who in it comes across as a kind of bald and bulky Lee Marvin sort), I didn’t find it any kind of classic. I’ll admit that it’s a better movie than Chronicles, and Diesel is certainly better in it than in this engorged follow-up, which nonetheless doesn’t seem like much of a comedown. In fact, Chronicles is such a preposterous mess that it’s rarely short of fascinating.
Instead of a standard thriller a la Pitch Black, Twohy here serves up a large portion of David Lynch’s Dune with a side order of crackpot Shakespeare and a dollop of production design that appears to have been handled by someone who was frightened at an impressionable age by the statuary in Sternberg’s The Scarlet Empress — all topped off with some of the funniest faux-science ever to come down the pike. (I particularly like the idea of a planet with temperatures that reach 700 degrees, but which you can survive upon as long as you stay out of the path of the sun. A good sun-block, and you could probably even set up housekeeping.)
And then there are the names of things in this movie: The aforementioned planet is called “Crematoria,” the bad guys are “Necromongers” and Vin is apparently the lone survivor of a race dubbed the “Furions,” while the big goal of the Necromongers is to make it to some Vallhalla-like place called the “Underverse” (which reminded me of a line of children’s underwear). No, I can’t take this stuff seriously, but I can’t bring myself not to chuckle over it all either. And that pretty much sums up my take on the whole affair.
The plot is both loopy and unclear. Headed up by the Lord Marshall (a scenery chewing Colm Feore, Chicago), the Necromongers are out to convert or destroy — or maybe convert anddestroy — every planet they come across. And they just happen to have stumbled upon the one where dwells Imam (Keith David, Barbershop), one of the two people to have survived Pitch Black with Riddick. Moreover, it appears that Imam is in cahoots with an “elemental” named Aereon (Judi “Where’s My Check?” Dench), who has it on good authority that Riddick might be a Furion, and therefore the only person who can defeat the Necromongers.
What’s an elemental, you might ask? Well, if my memory of black magic serves, it’s a kind of minor demon. Here, however, it’s a wispy Dame Judi, who can materialize and dematerialize at will — and yet she still gets herself imprisoned by the Lord Marshall. How? You’ll have to ask somebody who might know.
Now, in the middle of all this are two — count ’em, two — subplots. One involves the other survivor of Pitch Black, who is now all grown up and nursing a crush on/grudge against Riddick, and is played by Alexa Davalos (TV’s Angel). The other is even better, offering us the Macbethian antics of the Lord Marshall’s right-hand man, Vaako (Kurt Urban, Lord of the Rings), and the power-mad Dame Vaako (Thandie Newton, The Truth About Charlie), who wants her man to off the Lord Marshall and take over the Necro racket. This space-opera Shakespeare might have been palatable, but not with Urban sporting the universe’s first intergalactic mullet and a rightly embarrassed-looking Newton wearing enough black eye makeup to pass for a raccoon or a linebacker. What was Twohy thinking?
All this nonsense eventually will lead to a kind of Dune-like Kwisatz Hadderach poppycock that hardly matters, except that it paves the way for a sequel that probably won’t happen. Diesel has here traded in his Marvin-like antihero charm for the kind of sulky posing that was supposed to represent acting in A Man Apart, and which is no more convincing this time out. But at least the whole thing moves better, is housed in a nicely mounted production and generates a good bit of amusement.
That this last attribute was probably unintentional doesn’t prevent it from being entertaining.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke