Riddick Vin Diesel, Jordi Molla, Matt Nable. Directed by David Twohy. Rated R. Opens Friday.
It’s rare to be able to call the third movie in a sci-fi/action franchise a labor of love, but that’s exactly what Riddick is for producer-star Vin Diesel and writer-director David Twohy. The pair have spent nearly a decade working to get intergalactic badass Richard B. Riddick back on the big screen, and Diesel even obtained the rights to the character as payment for his return to the Fast & Furious franchise. Watching Riddick, however, it’s tough to see what all the hard work was about, since the movie is a poorly paced, generic action movie with cheap-looking special effects, only a step or two above the sci-fi fare that goes straight to video. Although its reduced budget forces a welcome retreat from the bloated excess of 2004’s The Chronicles of Riddick, the movie fails to capture the gritty B-movie excitement of 2000’s Pitch Black, Riddick’s first onscreen adventure.
Like Pitch Black, Riddick takes place on a barren, inhospitable planet populated only by deadly creatures, and it involves the surly Riddick reluctantly teaming up with his antagonists in order to survive the aliens’ attacks. Here Riddick, deposed from the imperial throne he attained at the end of Chronicles, is left for dead on the unnamed planet, and he spends the first half-hour of the movie completely alone, learning to fend for himself against the local fauna and survive the harsh conditions of his new surroundings.
The sci-fi survivalist story is actually sort of admirably minimalist, but once Riddick discovers a distress beacon and attracts a crew of opportunistic mercenaries to the planet, the movie devolves into a laughable string of tough-guy clichés. The one-dimensional mercenaries attempt to capture and/or kill Riddick, who has a huge bounty on his head, and they spend a good hour of the movie bickering amongst themselves while Riddick easily picks them off. It’s only in the final act, when a rain storm brings an invasion of scorpion-like predators, that the movie picks up again, even if it’s only to copy the Pitch Black formula.
Diesel’s wooden acting is part of his appeal at this point, and Riddick remains monosyllabic and grumpy. The supporting characters are mostly interchangeable, although poor Katee Sackhoff, so brilliant on Battlestar Galactica, gets the distinction of playing the only female character just so the men (and the movie itself) can creepily leer at her. Despite a cameo from Chronicles villain Vaako (Karl Urban, who’s moved on to better sci-fi prospects in the Star Trek movies) and a connection to one of Pitch Black’s supporting characters, Riddick is a largely self-contained story that doesn’t move the series mythology forward, but doesn’t offer too many pleasures on its own, either. It’s hard to imagine a huge audience for this belated, underwhelming sequel, but given Diesel and Twohy’s dedication, they’ll probably shoot the next one in the star’s backyard if necessary.