Thursday, January 16, 2014

Movie Review: Riddick

Directed by: David Twohy.
Written by: David Twohy based on characters created by Jim Wheat & Ken Wheat.
Starring: Vin Diesel (Riddick), Jordi MollĂ  (Santana), Matt Nable (Boss Johns), Katee Sackhoff (Dahl), Dave Bautista (Diaz), Bokeem Woodbine (Moss), Raoul Trujillo (Lockspur), Conrad Pla (Vargas), Danny Blanco Hall (Falco), Noah Danby (Nunez), Neil Napier (Rubio), Nolan Gerard Funk (Luna), Karl Urban (Vaako).

 If there is anything good to say about Riddick – and I do say if – it’s that at least David Twohy has scaled back his ambitions from the ridiculous level of the last Riddick film – The Chronicles of Riddick from 2004. The (limited) charm of the original Riddick film – Pitch Black was how simple it was – convict who can see in the dark is on a planet engulfed in darkness fighting alongside others as monsters try and kill them. That’s it, that’s all – nothing else. The Chronicles of Riddick tried to make the lead character into some sort of mythical creation of epic proportions. If nothing else, Riddick brings the character back to his roots – a simple story of one bad man - a bunch of other perhaps even worse men fighting horrid monsters and trying to survive the night.

Ok, so it is a little more complicated than that, but I really wish it wasn’t. The story opens with Riddick having been betrayed (there is a brief, if somewhat confusing prologue for those of us who haven’t thought of Riddick and his adventures in the last nine years) and abandoned on a seemingly desolate planet. There are some creatures there – including some dogs, one of which Riddick befriends as a puppy to ensure we don’t think he is a complete asshole. There are also some water aliens, with huge spiked tails that seem menacing, but who Riddick is normally able to dispose of pretty rapidly in a series of scenes involving all sorts of disembowelments. After spending years there, the planet seems to start changing – Riddick does not like what is coming. He is able to get to a distant outpost and set off a distress signal – which immediately identifies him. Since he’s a wanted criminal, it isn’t long before two ships of mercenaries arrive. The first group seem rather low tech and brutal, the second a little more organized and well-funded. The first group is led by Santana (Jordi Molla) – a crude little man. The second group is led by Boss Johns (Matt Nable) – who has a personal vendetta against Riddick.

After a largely wordless opening 20 minutes – it’s just Riddick and his dog battling monsters – Riddick takes a back seat for much of the next half hour or so as we get to know the feuding groups of mercenaries who eventually come to an agreement – mainly because they have to. Although Riddick is not seen often, he is able to cause havoc and discord in the group by murdering members who wander away from the group (idiots) and stealing something that will prevent the mercenaries’ ship from flying away. He has a deal for them – give him one ship, and he’ll let them take the other ship home. If not, when night comes and the monsters come out to play, everyone is screwed.

I have to say, I’m not quite sure why writer/director David Twohy and star Vin Diesel are so determined to try and make Riddick into a franchise. After the last film bombed, Diesel went as far as to agree to make a cameo appearance in Fast &Furious Tokyo Drift in exchange for the rights to the franchise. It’s clear to the two of them; these are personal, passion projects. What I don’t understand is why. The films feel like generic horror-action movies. Yes, all three have some good sequences – but none of them have the kind of weight or substance you normally associate with passion projects. If the end of this film is any indication, they aren’t done with the character either. Apparently there are things that still have not been wrapped up.

Like Pitch Black, Riddick is not a horrible movie. It feels precisely like what it was – a mid-range budget action-horror film released at an off-peak time (in this case September) to try and get the hard core action fans who cannot go a week without seeing some things blow up and guts being spilled. Twohy has shown he can be a good director – as mentioned, I think all three Riddick films have some very good sequences – but other films, like the haunted submarine film Below and the twisty crime thriller A Perfect Getaway, are even better. I think it’s time to let this franchise die. No one seems to love it as much as Twohy and Diesel do. Then again, I wanted the Resident Evil franchise to end about 4 installments ago, so what do I know.

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