2013 - 119 minutes
Written and directed by: David Twohy
Starring: Vin Deisel, Jordi Molla, Matt Nable, Katee Sackhoff, Dave Bautista, Bokeem Woodbine
“Riddick” nearly achieves its goal of entertaining B-movie schlock, but the film’s clunky pacing and general corniness leave it stuck at a solid C-plus. This is an attempt to revive a character that first appeared in 2000’s “Pitch Black” which gained somewhat of a cult following on home video, only to get bogged down by the big-budget, universe building and CGI showcase that was the 2004 follow-up, “The Chronicles of Riddick.”
More than just trimming the fat from the title, “Riddick” tries to get back to basics on every level. Most importantly, having the Vin Diesel-powered antihero dispatching of monstrous aliens unscrupulous military types. There are callbacks to the other films, especially the first which served as a template for this one, but understanding the character on a basic level is all that’s required. Diesel’s futuristic tank top, night-vision eyes/goggles and monotone warbling of mechanical dialogue are enough to define him.
We do get a bit of plot to set the stage for the low-fi science fiction adventure. Riddick is unsatisfied with his life as a ruler of the Necromongers (whoever they are), where he swills wine from the bottle and watches a harem of naked women writhe in his bed. Heavy is the head that wears the crown, indeed. He desires to reunite with his own people on the plant of Furyan, and Vaako (a brief cameo from Karl Urban) can show the way.
For reasons that aren’t very clear, Riddick is instead marooned on a desolate sun-scored planet and left for dead. The opening of “Riddick” is easily the strongest section of the film as the resourceful brute gets a lay of the land, nurses his wounds and fights off local beasts that include tiger-striped hyena jackals and slimy grey aliens that live in moist, dark areas and sting with a strong venom-filled tail. It’s a shame how much the visual storytelling in the first act is broken up by some mundane voiceover from Diesel that adds nothing other than tedium and lame attempts at humor.
Discovering a supply bunker outpost, Riddick activates an emergency beacon in hopes of obtaining a ship from those who come to collect him. Two crews answer the call – one ragtag group of bounty hunters led by Santana (Jordi Molla), the other a more regimented military crew helmed by Johns (Matt Nable). Santana wants a cash prize for Riddick’s head, while Johns has more of a personal history and hopes to take over the operation after Santana inevitably screws it up.
This is where the film runs into its flow problems, with way too much time devoted to the workings of the mercenary groups. Molla as Santana has way too much screentime yelling profanity-laced responses to Riddick’s ability to pick off his team and harassing Johns’ lesbian lieutenant Dahl (Katee Sackhoff). Acting is shaky with the whole cast of supporting characters; when former professional wrestler Dave Bautista is somewhat of a standout, it’s probably not a good sign.
Not shy about its efforts to recapture whatever magic there was in “Pitch Black,” this film once again has Riddick teaming with his enemies to survive an onslaught from alien predators that go bump in the night. Problem is, we know this is coming, but it takes forever to get there.
Games played between Riddick and the mercs are stretched beyond their worth – including an extended sequence involving a locker laced with explosives and the transformation of Dahl as she warms to the titular character’s charms. Once the monsters attack, it’s seemingly over in a flash with a couple unearned character turnarounds ruining, and then saving everyone’s day.
Writer/director David Twohy and star Diesel are an effective team who are on to something with this character, but just don’t quite get there. Sort of like the cool-in-theory levitating futuristic motorcycles ridden in the film that are undermined by some dodgy CGI and greenscreen backdrops. It’s also hard to empathize with a jackal/Bengal/hyena creature befriended by Riddick when it’s so clearly a computer creation prancing around the screen.
Too much effort is put into meaningless secondary characters spouting pretty horrible dialogue instead of Riddick and his handling of them. The parched planet they inhabit here is competently created by Twohy and his team (some effects aside), but by the emotionally empty conclusion it all just feels underwhelming.
© 2013 by Blake Crane