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Sunday, September 08, 2013

Riddick

The last time we saw space criminal and antihero, Richard B. Riddick (Vin Diesel), it was back in 2004, and he was headlining the overstuffed, $100 million+ summer film, The Chronicles of Riddick.  Due to the fact that the movie strayed from the dark Sci-Fi horror roots that introduced the character (2000's Pitch Black), the fans stayed away, and the Riddick franchise seemed to stall just as soon as it had started.  But, thanks to Diesel's recent surge in popularity thanks to the recent Fast & Furious sequels, Universal Studios has decided to give the character another chance with Riddick, a much more modestly budgeted film that takes the character back to his darker roots.

It's a good idea, and director and co-writer David Twohy (who has been with the series from the beginning) seems more comfortable working with a smaller budget.  But there still seems to be something off about this whole enterprise.  While Riddick remains an intimidating and intriguing antihero, we still don't know all that much about him, three films in.  And the plot that Twohy has dropped his character into is pretty thin stuff, and not strong enough to carry a two hour film.  The reduced budget also shows, with some questionable CG effects, and a murky look.  And yet, the film could have overcome all of this if it gave us something to care about, which it doesn't.  Despite some strong individual moments, Riddick never quite gets off the ground.

The opening half of the movie is where it is at its strongest.  Here, Riddick finds himself stranded on a barren desert planet that seems to be out to get him, as just about every form of life that lives there seems to be trying to kill him.  We learn through flashbacks what happened between the last movie and now - Riddick had grown tired of his position as Lord Marshall of the Necromongers, gave up his thrown, and decided to return to his home planet of Furya.  After one of his subjects betrayed him, he now finds himself on this deadly planet, which he has dubbed "Not Furya".  As the only person on this world, he must try to survive, mend his own wounds, and search for food, water and shelter.  With minimal dialogue, aside from a growling voice over narration provided by Diesel, the movie manages to create a tense atmosphere just through its visuals.  The only thing that took me out of this part of the movie is its somewhat low rent CG effects.  Riddick actually manages to befriend an alien creature that somewhat resembles a dingo, who becomes his companion/comic relief in the first half of the picture.  Too bad the effects make the creature look like a CG cartoon character at times, completely out of place in the live action environments.

Riddick eventually finds an emergency beacon, which signals two different ships to his location.  Here is where we enter the second half of the film, and where things start to go downhill.  One of the ships carries a band of mercenaries, led by the greedy Santana (Jordi Molla), whose main motivation is to cut off Riddick's head, and place it in a box for a bounty.  The other ship is led by the noble Johns (Matt Nable), who also wants Riddick, but wants to capture the criminal alive, so that he can be questioned.  Johns is accompanied by Dahl (Katee Sackhoff from TV's reboot of Battlestar Galactica), who is the film's prerequisite strong female character, and provides sex appeal.  Everyone else aboard the two ships are not worth mentioning, and don't even get developed.  Why should they, since they pretty much exist to be killed off either by Riddick, or by aliens?  Riddick uses his survival skills to outsmart his pursuers for a while, but is eventually captured.  And when the two groups come together to argue over what's to be done with the criminal, some unfriendly aliens happen to show up, attack the base, and start picking off the survivors.

It's a thin premise that would have been fine at a lean 80 or 90 minutes, but at a full two hours, seems stretched completely thin.  Heck, by the time the aliens finally show up in the last half of the film, the movie has just less than a half hour to go, so the screenplay has to rush its way through this situation, and get the surviving characters to its ending.  The attacking monsters, shrouded mostly in darkness and shadow, aren't even all that interesting in the first place.  So, what is there to engage us?  Very little, I'm afraid.  The dialogue in Riddick consists mainly of exposition, and the characters bickering back and forth over what they're going to do with the main character once he's captured.  There's very little tension created, and little reason for us to care about anyone up on the screen.  The movie picks up every now and then with Riddick pulling off some shocking or brutal attack on his wannabe captors. (This is a movie that earns its R-rating.) But every time this happens, it feels like a jolt to keep the audience awake, instead of interested.

A few of the performances do manage to overcome this thin material and grab our attention.  Vin Diesel, as he has been since he first played this character 13 years ago, commands the screen, and has a very dark but oddly likable presence as this convicted murderer who always finds himself in situations where he has to be a hero.  And yet, over 13 years and three movies (plus some video games), we still know very little about the character.  It's Diesel's intimidating on screen presence that draws us in, not the character as he is written.  The other standout performance is provided by Katee Sackhoff.  She's supposed to bring to mind some great tough women in past Sci-Fi films, like Ripley in the Alien franchise, or Sarah Conner in the Terminator movies, and Sackhoff is more than capable of the job.  The problem once again stems from the fact that her character is underwritten.  Her performance grabs our attention, but the script can't provide an interesting character to go along with it.

I have a sense little of this will matter to fans of the character.  They'll just be happy to see him again, and in a darker and R-rated film. (The last Riddick movie was toned down to a PG-13, due to its massive budget.) I really wanted to like this movie more than I did, but its plodding pace and underwritten cast made it impossible.  Maybe it's time someone other than Twohy took a try with the character.  I'd like to see a fresh spin on Riddick, keeping his dark and violent roots in tact, while also maybe digging a little deeper into him.

See the movie times in your area or buy the DVD at Amazon.com!

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