'Riddick' goes back to 'Pitch Black' territory ... by basically just imitating 'Pitch Black'
Riddick Universal Pictures
Director: David Twohy
Screenplay: David Twohy
Starring: Vin Diesel, Jordi Mollà, Katee Sackhoff, Matt Nable, Dave Bautista and Bokeem Woodbine
Rated R / 1 hour, 59 minutes
September 13, 2013
(out of four)
David Twohy's Riddick is designed as a throwback to the franchise's Pitch Black roots, but ends up being little more than a rehash - or a borderline remake. But with worse acting and less purpose. Mostly it seems like an extended apology for the generally derided sequel, 2004's The Chronicles of Riddick, but one that never finds its own reason for being.
Once again, as in the original, the convict Riddick (Vin Diesel) finds himself stranded on an unfriendly planet. And once again, he finds himself in conflict with a ragtag crew where everyone's survival is at stake. Once again, he's relentlessly pursued by a mercenary - in fact, this time it's the father of the one from the original. Once again, the merc's pursuit is mitigated by the presence of a strong and more pragmatic female character who may or may not want to totally jump Riddick's bones. And once again, the planet is overrun with various creatures who would like nothing more than to make any of these stranded humans their next meal.
But what was done with charm and humor the first time around just seems tired and redundant this time, with each character and each sequence seeming like an inferior substitute. That goes for our hero, too. In Pitch Black he was a scary but lovable rogue; his unvarnished coarseness was charming. But no longer; in Riddick he just seems like a creep. Especially as it pertains to whatever kind of romantic intrigue Twohy is trying to force between Riddick and Dahl (Katee Sackhoff), the second-in-command of a supposed rescue crew that answers Riddick's emergency beacon.
The sexual tension between the two is virtually non-existent, but don't tell that to the script - it will force a ham-fisted flirtation between those two if it's the last thing it does. (Dahl's sudden lust for Riddick not only makes absolutely no sense, it's a disservice to her character - a strong woman reduced to being a climactic trophy for our musclebound alpha male.)
The film doesn't particularly know what to do with Riddick in general. It begins with an extended sequence of the outlaw alone on the planet, braving its wildlife, its scorching sun and its apparent shortage of fresh drinking water. Here, Twohy seemingly dusts off his creature sketchpad, giving us scene after scene of Riddick battling one CGI beast or another. In many ways, this opening act is the most interesting section of the movie, but it feels more like a highlight reel for the special-effects team than the survival setpiece it's attempting to be. (Through flashbacks, Twohy bridges the gap between this movie and Chronicles, but he gets through it as hastily as possible. I don't think the word "necromonger" is ever uttered.)
Riddick avoids being hunted and eaten long enough to find an abandoned way station, where he triggers the beacon that summons not one, but two ships - the aforementioned mercenary and his crew in one, a team of bounty hunters in the other. The head merc, Boss Johns (Matt Nable), is out for Riddick's blood to avenge the death of his son, played by Cole Hauser in Pitch Black. The bounty hunters are led by Santana (Jordi à, looking just as fidgety and erratic as he did during the second half of Blow). As the two groups try uneasily to co-exist, Riddick tries to leverage them against one another as he tries to secure safe passage off the planet. Complications ensue, and the film settles into a comfortable kind of suspense, punctuated by bursts of action, that might be a bit more enjoyable if it didn't seem so blatantly familiar. (A bit extra familiar for me, perhaps, because I only saw Pitch Black for the first time earlier this year.)
The decision to shift the character and the franchise back to what originally worked is logical, but disheartening. The Chronicles of Riddick may have been a failure - not only earning derision from legions of moviegoers but barely making back half its production budget - but I admire what it tried to do a lot more than I admire what this tired third entry does. An attempt to expand and redefine a mythology is at least interesting; with Riddick, however, Twohy and Diesel just seem to be running in place. We don't learn anything new about the character, or see any new side to him, or even see him in a situation we haven't already seen him in before. It's two hours of déjà vu. Riddick isn't a terrible movie by any means, but it is an unnecessary one.