FEARNET Movie Review: 'Riddick'


riddickAt this point you already know if you're interested in yet another "Vin Diesel vs. Angry Aliens" movie or not, so let's start with a quick history lesson and move on from there...

February 2000 -- The $24 million action / sci-fi / horror mash-up Pitch Black makes about $53 million in worldwide box office receipts. Not terrible, but certainly not the beginning of a fancy trilogy or anything.
June 2000 -- Pitch Black hits home video (and cable) and becomes a very popular movie indeed.
June 2004 -- Universal releases the shockingly stupid sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick, which adhered firmly to the then-popular template of "gruff anti-hero who reluctantly teaches a society of backwoods idiots how to defend themselves against evil oppressors." The $105 million production barely crossed that total in worldwide box office -- and the sequel would never become a fan favorite on home video/cable like Pitch Black did,
September 2013 -- After a nine-year hiatus, Universal decides to give star / producer Vin Diesel and writer / director David Twohy another $40 million to see if they can't recapture some of the fun, simplicity, and profit margins of the first Pitch Black. Even the title, simply Riddick, speaks to the issue of stripping this franchise down, examining its rather simple parts, and deciding what works.
To that end, it seems that Twohy and Diesel did all they could to present a virtual remake of Pitch Black -- and yet it still works. Perhaps it's just that the multiplexes will always need a few basic but entertainingly bad-ass action movies, and it seems that Twohy, Diesel, and myself are in agreement on what makes these films work: one nasty planet, several ferocious creatures, just enough of a supporting cast to provide some colorful background and creative death scenes, and a wise-ass tongue-in-cheek swagger that evokes comic books but not broad comedy.
In other words, Riddick almost feels like a decidedly meaner and more profane remake of Pitch Black. Call it an example of going back to what worked in the first movie -- or maybe even a straight-out apology for going so silly with the previous sequel -- but there's a good deal of mindlessly appealing genre gristle to be found in the third chapter of Riddick's angst- and agony-laden interstellar exploits. (Seriously, I can't think of another contemporary movie hero who takes as much physical punishment as Riddick.)
As if in response to the labyrinthine nonsense found within the screenplay for The Chronicles of Riddick, Mr. Twohy presents an admirably straightforward story for Part 3: Riddick is trapped on a planet that's pretty much teeming with carnivorous beasts, so once he happens upon a deserted outpost, he sends out a distress signal. But seeing as how Riddick is wanted by the law (and preferably dead), his signal attracts competing bounty hunters instead of the outer space version of the Red Cross. 
Virtually all of Riddick is about arguments: the bounty hunters argue with each other constantly, and the only thing they can agree on is that their quarry is one tenaciously evasive bastard. Arguments turn into rampant hostility once Riddick gives himself up -- and that happens right before every alien on the planet arrives at the outpost and tries to kill everyone in sight. It's all very confrontational, truth be told, and much of the flick is quite simply a whole lot of sweaty genre fun.
Director David Twohy -- veteran genre filmmaker who has done more good films than bad -- seems to want Riddick to be a dark sci-fi adventure for an hour, and then a good old outer space alien siege for the second half. Most if it works quite well, albeit in a simplistic and pretty predictable format, and if Riddick stumbles across two or three mid-section sequences that it simply doesn't need (one involving a booby-trapped locker takes forever and goes nowhere), they're easily forgotten once the flick starts doling out the fights, the monsters, and the attitude.
Full-bore matinee-style silliness to its core, Riddick deserves some credit simply for delivering its promised payload with a noteworthy degree of color and energy. The special effects and the score, for example, add a lot to what is essentially a very generic space western story, and Twohy's commitment to combining action, adventure, horror, and science fiction is something any genre fan should appreciate. Toss in a tough and sexy Katee Sackhoff performance, a few minor plot threads from the earlier flicks, and a heaping dose of omnivorous aliens and you've got a Part 3 that almost makes one forget how awful Part 2 was.