The Chronicles of Riddick (2004) / Action-Sci Fi

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and some language (director's cut is unrated, bout would probably be R)
Running time: 119 min. (director's cut runs 135 min.)

Cast: Vin Diesel, Colm Feore, Thandie Newton, Judi Dench, Karl Urban, Alexa Davalos, Linus Roache, Yorick van Wageningen, Nick Chinlund, Keith David
Director: David Twohy
Screenplay: David Twohy
Review published August 6, 2006

Let's see if I can write this entire review without once calling the film, "The Chronically Riddick-ulous".  Oops, I guess I just did, sorry.

Set five years after the events of Pitch Black, The Chronicles of Riddick continues the adventures of the universe's most dangerous escaped fugitive, Riddick (Diesel, A Man Apart).  At the beginning of the film, we find Riddick pursued by some dangerous bounty hunters.  After learning who sent them, Riddick quickly dispatches them and steals their spaceship, heading to the planet of Helion Prime to put an end to his betrayer.  When he arrives, Riddick learns that the vicious Necromongers are about to lay siege on the planet, forcing the surviving inhabitants to convert to their faith.  Riddick has been called here as perhaps the only hope for the Helion people, although he doesn't really feel it is his fight until he rediscovers "Jack" (from the first film), who has grown up to be a beautiful, and quite skilled young woman named Kyra (Davalos, And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself).  With the help of some of the rebels, Riddick seeks to put an end to the Necromonger blight and make his escape before the whole place is destroyed.

A critical and commercial failure upon its release, The Chronicles of Riddick has nevertheless achieved a bit of a cult status among sci-fi/action junkies once the director's cut was released on home video, just as its predecessor, Pitch Black. had done in post-theatrical release.  For the purposes of reviewing the version most people would choose to see, I decided to watch the director's cut over the theatrical release.  If this version is better than the one edited to conform to a PG-13 rating in theaters, I never plan on watching the other version, since it is such an astonishingly confusing, mind-bogglingly dull way to waste two hours of one's life.

I could give writer-director David Twohy (Below, The Arrival) some credit for, at the very least, trying to do something different with his sequel, instead of merely rehashing the formula of the first film.  Judging by the amount of time and effort he put into the main concepts of the plot and storyline, there's no question that he wanted to make a powerhouse sci-fi film that would cement the franchise for many films to come. 

Unfortunately, it appears that his ambitions were a bit too grand for what he was able to actually deliver.  Twohy tries to give us more of what we enjoyed from the first film, putting the character of Riddick at the center of the film, ramping up the sound and special effects to the maximum degree, and giving us an intricate and deep world of various races and worlds for us to discover beyond the small area that the first film explored.  While the look and sound of the film is admittedly dazzling, the convoluted storyline has difficulty competing for precious screen time with the all-out action pieces.  If Twohy had concentrated more in one direction over another, the film could have been properly balanced to succeed.  By trying to do both, he has only succeeded in making a film with too much plotting that detracts from the action, while the prolonged action scenes don't leave much time left for explanations of character motivations or even basic story exposition.

One of the knocks I generally have regarding films set in futuristic or fantasy worlds is that the characters rarely speak to one another in a manner that real people would, regardless of time or place.  The Chronicles of Riddick suffers from this malady more than most in its genre, with very stiff, and often laughable dialogue, sometimes coming off as stilted, and at other times stridently mundane.  The conversations between male characters have about the depth and emotion of a WWE wrestling match, while conversations with the female characters are plagued with an underlying sexuality (in a disturbingly threatening manner) that makes one wonder why the universe of the film seems so devoid of any sexual references, when it seems that there are some very hot and horny people around all of the time.

One of the major reasons that I enjoy Pitch Black is that it keeps its sights low and its focus sharp, while also keeping the proceedings simple enough to keep up the taut pace without the need to constantly try to explain to the audience just what's going on.  The Chronicles of Riddick seems light-years away from the basic pleasures of Pitch Black by trying to make an epic science fiction/action extravaganza, spreading its thin storyline in many different directions, while tossing in characters and scenarios with minimal, and sometimes nonexistent attempts to clarify just who everyone is and why they are doing what they do.  The spirit of this film aligns it more to Dune or Battlefield Earth than it does Pitch Black.

The Chronicles of Riddick is, at the same time, just too much and not nearly enough.  If all you're seeking is action and a blow-you-away spectacle, it definitively delivers in that mode with excess to spare.  However, anyone that expects to be truly enthralled with scares, chills, or something more than cheap thrills will find little in the story or characterizations to identify with, with most scenes set up merely to reassert that Riddick is a bad-ass that should never be trifled with. 

Near the end of this convoluted, emotionally stagnant film, Riddick delivers one of the film's more memorable lines by asking another character, "Are you with me?"  If he'd have asked me the same question, I'd honestly answer, "Sorry, Riddick, you lost me a long time ago".

-- Followed by Riddick.

Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo