Richard B. Riddick (Vin Diesel) awakens on a dusty and deserted planet and immediately starts yammering on about how down on his luck he is, how nobody likes him, and how he may as well just die. But if there’s one consistent thing about Riddick (there are actually nothing but consistent things about Riddick) it’s that he is one difficult bastard to kill. Seems like just yesterday he was pouting on his throne as leader of the Necromongers, but after refusing to partake in a fivesome, he’s shipped off ostensibly to search for his home planet of Furya. Joke’s on him, though, as the bullies actually abandon him on the otherwise empty planet of Not Furya where he’s forced to avoid becoming dinner for creatures from land, sea, and air.
He soon grows tired of performing his one-man show, a mash-up of The Lion King and The Naked Prey, for an ungrateful non-humanoid audience and triggers a beacon to lure in nearby mercenary ships for a lift. Two squads of competing mercs arrive, both intent on hunting him down (and at least one pretty dead-set on putting Dick B. Riddick’s head in a box), but soon members of a third party rear their ugly heads and the concept of sides goes right out the window.
If you like your sci-fi/action movies filled with interesting characters, intriguing plot points, and exciting action sequences then stop reading and go re-watch Aliens. If however you prefer they feature plenty of laughs, cost-conscious visual effects, and an arguably misogynistic tone, then David Twohy‘s Riddick is the space-set adventure for you.
Twohy and Diesel first brought Mr. Riddick to the big screen in 2000’s Pitch Black, a tight, dark, and surprisingly thrilling little flick that was followed four year’s later by a sequel (The Chronicles of Riddick) both bigger in scope and smaller in effectiveness. That second film died an ugly death at the box office, but like I said before, Riddick is not a man prone to staying dead.
His third adventure doesn’t work in the areas where it clearly should but excels somewhere you’re probably not expecting. There’s plenty of action here, but too much of it is cropped too tightly, deflating any sense of energy or excitement. This goes for fist fights, bestial brawls, and beyond, and one can’t help but think Twohy and friends have simply forgotten how to choreograph action. As with the multiple instances where Riddick outwits his opponents, we’re left simply with some visual sleight of hand and no real appreciation of how he got from point A to point B.
The science fiction element is a bit more successful as the movie eschews any grand effort in exchange for a return to the scale and intensity that made the first film work so well. The planet of Not Furya is populated by all manner of deadly beasts (well, three species anyway), and while they consist too frequently of CGI, the creatures are the most visually impressive element on display. Less impressive are the backdrops, wide shots, and air bike sequences that could almost pass for outtakes from Endor. (I exaggerate, but they’re pretty terrible.)
There are only two female characters in the film, but worse than their quantity is their quality. The first is a nameless rape slave (implied as such) who’s killed almost immediately, and the other is a tough as nails lesbian merc (Katee Sackhoff) who can’t go more than a minute or two of screen-time without someone (fellow merc or Dick B. Riddick himself) threatening all manner of unwanted physical attention against her. Riddick’s promise to “go balls deep” in her is especially gentleman-like.
This kind of behavior, along with one macho character’s disgust at having to “ride bitch” on an air bike, combine to paint an ugly picture on the face of it, but the film’s tone belies any sense of malice or mean-spirited intent. Instead we’re given bad guys with implied sins camouflaged in actual charm and charisma. Jordi Mollà and Dave Bautista both entertain well outside their pay grade with Mollà in particular delivering the film’s biggest intentional laughs.
Most of the remaining supporting cast simply blend together into an indistinguishable, fleshy pulp. (Sorry Bokeem Woodbine.) Sackhoff actually disappoints in ways unrelated to her character. It feels as if she’s mistaken smirking for acting and decided that her level of effort starts and ends with ten seconds of topless side boob.
Twohy’s script (co-written with Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell) deserves credit for much of the humor, but it’s a mixed bag elsewhere. None of the characters outside of Riddick display anything resembling smarts, and the script enables their behavior with a ten-minute scene involving a booby-trapped locker. The outcome is inevitable, but the scene is milked dry of suspense and tension through its nonsensical trappings. The film’s ending is both obvious and abrupt (and probably a bit manipulated post-test screening), and it unsurprisingly leaves the door open for yet another sequel.
Riddick is more entertaining than it is exciting, and that’s only good or bad depending on your particular interests and hopes for it. The action and adventure are limited in scope and execution, but the laughs are frequent. It’s no Ice Pirates of course, but be serious. What is?
The Upside: Plenty of laughs (many of them intentional); some fun visuals; Dave Bautista and Jordi Mollà bring the smiles
The Downside: Only interesting character is a rapey Spaniard; action/fight scenes are too tightly cropped to see or enjoy; all of the characters are dumb; narration is consistently humorous when it isn’t even trying; Katee Sackhoff is barely trying here
On the Side: An early incarnation of the film’s title was reportedly The Chronicles of Riddick: Dead Man Stalking. I’m hoping this is not true.