After stumbling across a particularly orange, uninhabited desert early on in "Riddick," the titular convict-turned-warrior/poet notes that he missed a step somewhere and lost his way. For fans of Richard B. Riddick’s cinematic adventures, that somewhere would be easily traced to the production of 2004’s sci-fi epic fail "The Chronicles of Riddick."
The character’s first adventure, "Pitch Black" (or as the DVD insists I call it, "The Chronicles of Riddick: Pitch Black"), was a surprisingly effective B-movie, a smarter-than-most "Aliens" clone with Riddick playing the part of a dangerous, milky-eyed agent of chaos.
Then, in a move that will sound vaguely familiar to fans of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise, growing star Vin Diesel and writer-director David Twohy decided what this unpredictable supporting character needed was a forceful shove into the starring role of a big, serious Shakespearean space adventure, complete with silly costumes, excessive grandiosity and Dame Judi Dench. It’s a movie whose (almost) impressively lofty ambitions exceed its protagonist, a character better suited for the shadows than the spotlight.
Diesel and Twohy clearly love Riddick. You don’t dig up an old franchise character that no one remembers that much without some sort of emotional attachment or care (unless you’re Disney making a "Lone Ranger" movie). What’s less clear is if the creative duo knows why anyone else likes the character. Diesel and Twohy are driving the Riddick bandwagon, and they don’t seem to care if anyone else bothers to hop on. It’d seem nobler if the movie wasn’t such a slog.
"The Chronicles of Riddick: Riddick" opens with our titular anti-hero, wounded and meandering around a space desert, fighting beasties and even making friends with a big-eyed space puppy who grows up into a Furyan’s best friend. The sequence would play nicely as a quick opening prologue.
Unfortunately, the script – written by Twohy, Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell – tediously drags it out, even mixing in flashbacks to tie the film in with the end of "The Chronicles of Riddick," complete with clunky costumes and unmerited grand drama (Karl Urban shows up for five minutes as old nemesis Vaako). Misguidedly epic ambitions die hard, I suppose.
After that interminable, only fitfully entertaining 30-minute episode of "Riddick vs. Wild," the story finally begins … kind of. Riddick eventually comes upon two teams of mercenaries. Team one, led by the grimy, petulant Santana (an amusingly slimy Jordi Molla), simply wants the bounty on Riddick’s head. The other, snazzier dressed posse (Matt Nable, Katee Sackhoff and Bokeem Woodbine) has a more personal interest in the convict.
Much like in round one, the lights go out on the planet, bringing a swarm of angry monsters to the surface that everyone must fight together. Before we get to that, however, "Riddick" spends another needlessly long chunk of time having its lead ponderously pester the bickering mercenaries and generic grizzled toughs, played by the likes of former WWE star Dave Bautista.
Besides a few choice lines from Molla and his scummy soldiers, as well as a fun sequence involving an exploding lock, it’s a lot of time spent on filler.
The central mercs versus night monsters plotline is meant to hearken back to the simpler days of "Pitch Black." Only the basic outline, however, feels the same. The editing and pacing in "Riddick" doesn’t resemble its taut and energetic predecessor as much as it resembles Diesel’s voice: slow, lumbering and monotonous.
That pace, however, is perfect for Twohy’s insistence on capturing and savoring every moment of Riddick’s apparently awesome tough guy existence. Every testostrone-packed soliloquy must be documented, Every moment of manly posturing must be indulged. The monsters don’t even seem like a threat when they finally show up, just another thing to prove Riddick’s status as the ultimate alpha male of sci-fi.
To further cement his coolness, the movie surrounds him with an indistinct crowd of muscle-bound tough guys of which he becomes the machismo-oozing king. He’s even able to turn Sackhoff’s lesbian character straight with his sheer overpowering manliness (because that’s a completely accurate understanding of how sexual orientation works).
Every so often, the movie’s insistence on Riddick’s coolness actually churns out a slick moment (one character in particular gets dispatched from the film in amusingly gruesome fashion). For the most part, though, Riddick and the movie that shares his name aren’t as awesome as their creators think. They’re just tiresomely one-note. And anything that works this hard to convince people of its manly awesomeness probably isn’t actually all that cool to begin with.
"Riddick" may be trying to recapture the memory of "Pitch Black," but the movie that it plays most similarly to is a recent one with significantly more hair and less bloodshed: "One Direction: This is Us." Both are exclusively fans-only affairs more about posturing and cementing an image than anything else. While "This is Us" plays to a screaming crowd of teenage girls, Diesel and Twohy’s film plays to a screaming crowd of themselves.
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