Riddick (2013) / Action-Sci Fi

MPAA Rated: R for strong violence, language, some sexual content and nudity
Running Time: 119 min.

Cast: Vin Diesel, Jordi Molla, Matt Nable, Katee Sackhoff, Dave Bautista, Bokeem Woodbyne, Raoul Trujillo, Conrad Pla, Danny Blanco Hall, Noah Danby, Neil Napier, Nolan Gerard Funk
Small role: Karl Urban, Keri Hilson
Director: David Twohy

Screenplay: Oliver Butcher, Stephen Cornwell
Review published September 7, 2013

Vin Diesel's (Fast Five, Fast & Furious 6) second-most popular franchise role is back, nearly a decade after the grandiose opulence of The Chronicles of Riddick, with the more simplified title, Riddick.  It's the third theatrical film in the series surrounding the character that debuted in Pitch Black, the more small-scale sci-fi/action/horror/thriller hybrid that established the deep, gravelly voiced actor as an action-movie star.

Directed by David Twohy (A Perfect Getaway, Below), from a fleshed-out screenplay by Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell based on the story idea from Twohy himself, Riddick finds our titular hero on another alien planet full of deadly creatures who make quick prey of humans, and other native species as well.  That's the bad news.  The good news is that Riddick has been down this road before, and knows a thing or two about how to survive such hostile environments. 

As nasty as the terrain and deadly creatures he encounters prove to be, Riddick's real problems begin when he triggers a distress signal from an abandoned mercenary outpost in an effort to get off of the planet before the furious wildlife comes back to do him in for good.  Identified as wanted escaped convict Richard B. Riddick, the signal brings to the planet two distinct groups of bounty hunters, one group of cutthroats and the other more lawful, seeking the fat reward for Riddick's capture.  Most unfortunate for Riddick, his price for his death is twice as much as bringing him in alive.  In order to get off of the planet, he's going to either convince the bounty hunters to give up a ship he can escape on, or he's going to have to kill them all before he's killed himself.  Either way suits him just as fine.

Low expectations should probably be the first thing called for as a viewer, as Pitch Black had been an entertaining, effectively simple-minded debut, only to be followed by a convoluted, overdeveloped bore in The Chronicles of Riddick.  Kudos to Twohy for realizing the error of his ways in the second entry, as Riddick takes us back to the barebones premise of Pitch Black except with more effects shots, and more scenes of improbable bad-assery from Riddick.  The simple pleasures of a Riddick film should never be burdened through sticking him in a plot that requires undue analysis.

Though Riddick refers back to both films, with a flashback to bridge the gap between Chronicles and where we find Riddick at the beginning of this film, as well as one of the supporting characters being related to one of the characters in Pitch Black, it is not really necessary to have seen the prior two entries to be able to follow what happens in Riddick.  Twohy starts this very violent film in a much more subdued fashion, as the first quarter of the film features Riddick alone, with almost no dialogue save for Diesel's needless voiceover, just trying to survive with a broken leg on a planet that he far from belongs on.

Despite the fairly simple premise, and its limited scope, the visuals of the green-screened planetary landscapes, combined with the menacing look of the wholly CGI creatures, makes the art and technical design stand out.  What's most astonishing about this attempt at a sci-fi-action epic is that the budget was reportedly just under $40 million, almost unheard of for a film with a major box office star and a great number of effects shots.  Though distributed by Universal, much of the financing to make the film came from independent sources, and production had even halted for a time due to lack of funds.  Diesel's price is negated, as he produced and largely cultivated the film; reportedly, he secured the rights to Riddick in a barter with Universal, who had no intention of making a follow-up after Chronicles flopped financially, in exchange for making a cameo appearance in The Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift.

The effects of the creatures, particularly of the more canine predators of the planet, aren't completely convincing, but good enough to continue to be invested in the storyline. While budgetary issues do explain the limited nature of the storyline to one basic locale, I do believe it is something that works in the film's favor, as it stays in line with that of Pitch Black, and keeps the concentration on the several character actors who populate the film's bounty hunter clans.  The supporting players are fine, but second-billed Jordi Molla (Knight & Day, Bad Boys II), the Spaniard who plays Riddick's most sadistic foil, seems miscast, as he hams up his rape-y, sleaze-ball villainy far too maniacally to be supported by the modest scope of this picture.

But it isn't for the supporting cast that we watch a film like Riddick, it's for Riddick himself.  As we enjoy Eastwood's Man with No Name, John Carpenter's Snake Plisskin, or X-Men's Wolverine, we enjoy seeing a dangerous anti-hero stuck in a plot against overwhelming odds that forces him to get down and dirty in order to put the bad guys back in their place.  One of the more interesting aspects of Riddick is that, while most films feature the lone wolf being surrounded by those seeking to take him down, in this film, the hunters soon immediately the hunted, as they are stuck in one location and Riddick is the one surrounding them.  Personally, I do feel that Twohy goes a bit overboard in the gore department in some of the scenes.  It's enough to show the kill to punctuate the moment; the shots of bodies ripped open or decapitated to see inner parts makes the Western-tinged storyline drift too far into graphic slasher film territory to maintain proper tone as a stylish action vehicle.

While Riddick works well enough to sate those who enjoy the series, or at least Pitch Black, and some of the action scenes do build up an admirable level of excitement and tension, I do believe that Twohy goes a little too far in his quest to make Riddick the ultimate badass.  Such scenes as the extended one spotlighted in the trailer for the film, of Riddick, chained, forecasting what he's going to do to one of his captors, then doing exactly what he says, is farfetched fun.  However, it does shatter that all-important suspension of disbelief when Riddick then kicks a machete up into the ceiling, balances that weapon on his foot when it finally comes down, then kicks the object across the room to skewer the 'bad guy' in a fairly gruesome fashion.  The actual scene in the film doesn't even stop there, continuing the Rube Goldberg-esque methods of killing Riddick employs, but I won't spoil the punch line for those intending to see the film.

As Twohy does for this third entry, I'll keep the recommendation simple: If you liked Pitch Black, you'll probably like Riddick, and if you didn't, you probably won't.  Hopefully, should there be another sequel, Twohy and Diesel will continue to keep Riddick unencumbered by the Lord of the Rings-intricate plotting of Chronicles, and just let us enjoy Riddick unchained, playing 'Survival of the Fittest' against the universe's nastiest of predators.

Qwipster's rating:

2013 Vince Leo