Vin Diesel’s new movie is Riddick-ulous
With nine years between ‘The Chronicles of Riddick’ and ‘Riddick,’ you’d think someone could have come up with a better script.
If you’re planning to see the new Riddick movie, a little background is in order. The first film, Pitch Black (2000), was the story of a cargo ship transporting passengers and dangerous criminal Richard B. Riddick (Vin Diesel) – on his way to prison – that passes through the tail of a comet and sustains near-catastrophic damage. The crew awakens from cryo-sleep in time to land the ship on a nearby planet with three suns that keep it in perpetual daylight. Riddick escapes but is captured by another passenger, Johns (Cole Hauser), and brought back to the ship. A discovery is made that a once every 22 years eclipse is imminent, and Riddick is the least of everyone’s worries.
In the sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick (2004), Riddick is eluding capture five years after the events of Pitch Black. After killing a bounty hunter, Riddick heads to New Mecca on Helion Prime and reunites with Imam (Keith David), a survivor from the first film. He finds himself involved in a battle against an invading empire, the Necromongers, an army that plans to convert or kill all humans in the universe. Riddick is captured, escapes, is pursued by Commander Vaako (Karl Urban), is rescued by the Purifier (Linus Roache), disguises himself as a Necromonger, kills the Necromonger Lord Marshall, and the Necromongers crown Riddick their new leader. And Dame Judi Densch is in the movie too! And there was an animated direct-to-DVD feature that filled in the blanks between the first two movies.
In Riddick, Diesel returns to the role as Riddick’s story picks up some time after the second movie. And when I say “some time” it’s only because time seems very relative in this series. We find Riddick on another desolate planet, trying to survive the elements and the wildlife, including some hyena/jackal/dog things and some nasty scorpion-ish things that live underground and can only come to the surface through a water source. There is a brief flashback, featuring Karl Urban and his guy-liner in a cameo, showing us how Riddick got here (he thought he was being returned to the planet Furya, but was actually being dropped off to be left for dead) and then the first third of the movie is him and his dog-thing surviving.
More time passes, the dog-thing has grown from a pup to adult, and Riddick finds a shack, kind of a way-station for interstellar travelers. He gets on the horn and lets the universe know he’s there and immediately a ship full of bounty hunters lands to collect his head (he worth twice as much dead). But another ship arrives with a commander who only wants to speak to Riddick before the bounty hunters kill him. One of the crew members just happens to be Battlestar Galactica‘s Kara Thrace, aka Starbuck, but now her name is Dahl (Katee Sackhoff) which makes it sound like everyone is calling her “Doll.” After Riddick kills a few people and taunts them with an offer of one ship for them and one ship for him, he arrives with an even more urgent offer – everyone leaves before a big storm hits. He knows what’s coming once the ground gets wet, but won’t divulge that information until it’s too late. And then the movie basically becomes Pitch Black again.
I wanted so badly to love this movie because I enjoy the first two. Pitch Black is a lean, mean thriller and Chronicles is a huge space epic, which turned off a lot of the fans. This one reigns in the epic to get back to basics (even Riddick says he became too civilized, perhaps a swipe at the studio’s mandated PG-13 rating for part two), but it takes so freakin’ long to get there. The movie is broken into a first, second and third act, but by the time the mud scorpions show up, you’re just hoping they kill everyone swiftly so you can make a quick exit.
Besides the meandering structure, the film has some of the absolute worst dialog I’ve heard in quite some time. It’s painful, made even more painful by Riddick’s occasional voice-over, and you have to wonder at times if this isn’t really a parody that everyone is supposed to be laughing with, not at. Aside from Diesel, the actors range from “doing the best with what they’ve got” to flat out awful. Jordi Mollà, as the lead bounty hunter Santana, is particularly bad with his over-the-top, sometime unintelligible performance (and a lot of the dialog was mumbled so much that even crystal clear IMAX sound couldn’t help). Sackhoff just gets to sneer and say “fuck you” a lot … and she does show a bit of boobage, in case anyone is counting. Dave Bautista and Nolan Gerard Funk have the most personality out of all the peripheral characters.
I mentioned that time seems to have no meaning in this film and that’s not only because the chronology of events seems a bit off – the film takes place only 10 years after Pitch Black instead of 13 – but in the most baffling piece of casting: Matt Nable as the mysterious ship’s captain who wants to talk to Riddick. I’m going to give away what is probably a major spoiler here, but it’s the one thing that really, truly annoyed me the most about the movie so I have to talk about it. Nable’s character, it turns out, is also named Johns. They call him Boss Johns and he wants to know straight from Riddick what happened to his … son! I kept trying to remember if there was a small child on the ship in the first movie, and the only Johns was the bounty hunter who brought Riddick back to the ship after his escape. There was no possible way that Boss Johns could be that Johns’ father. No. Freakin’. Way! I know there have been cases of actors only a few years apart playing parent and child, but Nable doesn’t even look old enough to be Johns’ father (in fact, he’s only three years older than Cole Hauser). They couldn’t have cast someone older, say James Morrison? I would have bought him completely as Johns’ father, but this misstep in casting just wrecked the whole movie for me. And don’t even get me started on the flying motorcycles which made the Flash Gordon theme song play in my head. (Yeah, it kinda looked like that but without the winged monkeys … erm, men.)
I found Riddick to be a huge disappointment, but other people came out of the screening saying they enjoyed it. Perhaps over time, there will be some camp value to it (like Flash Gordon), but as it stands in the here and now, I seriously doubt Diesel and director David Twohy will get to make their hoped-for fifth and sixth entries in the Riddick series.