Steering away from the indulgent space-opera trappings of the much-maligned but sort of enjoyable bomb The Chronicles of Riddick (2004), director David Twohy revives the franchise with Riddick. In mood and structure, this latest installment is much more in line with the series’ first entry Pitch Black (2000). Though nothing truly special, Pitch Black was a solid little sci-fi/horror combo, a design Riddick attempts to recapture, as Vin Diesel’s titular anti-hero is stranded on a barren planet full of nasty CGI monsters that he must battle in order to survive. The concept, in theory at least, is good enough, but Twohy — and some issues inherent in the series — have some problems.
Riddick picks up after The Chronicles of Riddick, as our protagonist finds himself left for dead on some deserted planet by the evil, gothy galactic bad guys, the Necromongers. After 20 minutes reenacting select scenes from Castaway (2000), Riddick befriends a space dog and decides to put his grand escape plan into action, one that involves luring some meatheaded bounty hunters down to the surface so he can steal their ships. The problem with this section is the pace, as Riddick is almost exclusively the film’s only character. Not a lot happens besides Riddick wandering this wasteland of a planet, training this distractingly CGI’ed alien canine and narrating everything in faux-Raymond Chandler speak. Riddick’s just not an interesting character (no pet dog and a heart of gold can change that), and Diesel is sure as hell not an interesting enough actor to carry even a small portion of a movie.
Once the bounty hunters show up, the film feels a bit stronger. This is partly because Riddick/Diesel’s anti-charisma disappears from the film for a bit as his plan gets rolling, an unfortunate outcome when your movie’s titled Riddick. As action picks up, the plot finally wanders in — after all, Riddick is more of an action movie than Pitch Black, much like the sequel to 1979’s Alien amped things up. From here, there’s nowhere for the film to go.
There’s a good bit of gore with some aliens getting shot to shreds, and a whole lot of muscle-bound machismo that veers, perhaps, into homophobia in the domineering way Riddick interacts with Dahl (TV actress Katee Sackhoff), the film’s openly lesbian character. However, the action is so cheaply staged and runs so long that the all theoretically fun stuff hardly matters. A lot of this might be helped if Diesel could pull off this infinitely dangerous, overtly badass character, but he’s at an age and physical condition where he can’t convincingly pull off this tough-guy act anymore. And that’s not even getting into his inabilities as an actor and his wholly monotone performance. There’s some enjoyment to be had for fans of the previous films, but as a sci-fi/action film, there’s too much fat on Riddick to really be enjoyed, even for the goofy movie it is. Rated R for strong violence, language and some sexual content/nudity.
Playing at Carolina Cinemas, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, United Artists Beaucatcher