One Race Productions
1 hour, 59 minutes
Second chances in life are rare, but in Hollywood they’re almost unheard of. You’re probably not going to see a “John Carter of Mars 2” or a “Battleship Returns” anytime soon. When a big-budget tentpole flops, the moneymen dry up faster than Wesley Snipes’ career.
When Vin Diesel bet it all on the massive, and massively dumb sci-fi epic “Chronicles of Riddick,” that should have been all she wrote. The movie bombed, deservedly so, and that normally would have been it for the shiny-eyed killing machine that is Riddick.
However, due to Diesel’s unfathomable love for the franchise, his dogged insistence on beating the bushes to get a follow-up made, and in no small part to the recent success of the “Fast and Furious” films, this week saw the release of “Riddick” in theaters across the country. And, while it may not be a great film, it is so much better than the last one that it’s not even funny.
Vin Diesel’s devotion to “Riddick” shows in every scene. Set soon after the events of “Chronicles” which were too convoluted to recount, Riddick, intergalactic tough guy wanted for murder, finds himself marooned on a desolate planet covered over with deserts, feral dog-like creatures, and poisonous ground dwelling monsters that hibernate in the dry season, but awake with hideous ferocity in the rain. This is just the kind of environment that Riddick thrives in, and at first is very content with his new surroundings. He even takes on a pet.
Soon, however, when it becomes clear that the rainy season is going to prove more than a little inconvenient, what with all the fangs and stinging tentacles, Riddick activates a distress beacon at a deserted bounty hunter station he happens upon. Before you know it, with the prospect of bagging the most wanted list’s MVP, two separate bounty teams arrive. One, as the bounty is double if Riddick is delivered dead, has come prepared with a special box to carry his head home in. The other team, professional and highly trained, have more complicated motivations than money.
Naturally, Riddick begins to pick the teams apart until it becomes apparent that he might need them help him get off the planet alive. Now these two groups of hardened killers have to decide whether or not to trust the most dangerous man in the galaxy to help them survive an even worse threat just beneath the nearest puddle. And the rain is coming.
I really enjoyed “Riddick” despite an utterly ridiculous screenplay. The movie has wisely pared away everything that was wrong with “Chronicles” and returned to what made this character popular in the first place, namely fighting scary monsters against impossible odds. “Riddick” is actually the third film in the series, the first being the low-budget sci-fi film “Pitch Black,” which saw a similar situation where Riddick has to fight beasties on a scary planet, this time in the dark, which is not a problem for him due to his surgically enhanced eyes.
This current film is bigger, just not too big, and has a decidedly trashy, devil-may-care attitude. I was frequently reminded of movies like “The Road Warrior” or “Escape from New York.” Riddick isn’t as good a character as Snake Plisken or Mad Max, but there’s that same weary, go-to-hell attitude about him.
Where he gets annoying is in his improbable, almost magical prescience. He knows exactly how it’s all going to go down, and he doesn’t have a problem telling you about it. His growly voice-over can get old, but feels appropriate for the movie. The movie has some of the worst lines of the year, but since it is just aiming for trashy fun, it doesn’t seem so egregious.
I’m not sure I’d say the performances are great, but they do contain some really fun characterizations, including Diesel’s who, say what you will about the man’s acting ability, certainly gives it his all. I started out annoyed at Jordi Mollà, who plays Santana, the leader of the scuzzy bounty hunters, but became one of my favorite parts of the film, right up until the moment he meets his messy end. That’s not a spoiler. In a movie like this, it’s pretty easy in the first ten minutes to tell who’s going to make it and who’s not. He’s certainly the funniest character in the whole ensemble.
My favorite character, though, is Dahl, played by Katee Sackhoff, the tough as nails Number Two for the professional bounty hunters. Actually, Dahl, as a character doesn’t have as much to do as I’d hoped, and does get the second worst line in the whole movie (the first goes to Diesel, who apparently kept the choice bits for himself), but I really enjoy seeing Sackhoff on screen, so I’ll take what I can get. She was the best part of the epic retread of “Battlestar Galactica” a few years ago, where she played Starbuck, and will hopefully have small part in the next “Avengers” movie, if the Hollywood rumor mill can be believed.
“Riddick” is an energetic, enjoyable piece of pulp which has more in common with high-concept action films of the 1970s and 80s than it does with the heavy-on-mythos pseudo seriousness of today’s sci-fi. If nothing else, Diesel can breathe a sigh of relief and get a well-deserved pat on the back for sticking with a character that clearly no one else was interested in.
“Riddick” was the number one film at the box office this week, and if the returns keep coming in, Vin Diesel may get to wear those silly shiny contact lenses as often as he likes.
“Riddick” is rated R for excessive violence, nudity, sexual situations and pervasive language.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.