*** (out of 5)
September 6, 2013
Vin Diesel as RIDDICK
Jordi Mollà as SANTANA
Matt Nable as BOSS JOHNS
Katee Sackoff as DAHL
Dave Bautista as DIAZ
Bokeem Woodbine as MOSS
Directed by: David Twohy
BY KEVIN CARR
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If Forrest Gump were a movie reviewer, he would not characterize the new film “Riddick” as a box of chocolates. After all, you know exactly what you’re gonna get with this movie.
The third in a remarkable series (and by “remarkable,” I mean that it’s remarkable there have been two middling sequels made from a middling film from more than a dozen years ago), “Riddick” finds the title character stranded on a hostile planet after being betrayed by the guys from the previous film whose names I’m simply too lazy to search for on Wikipedia. (And, frankly, having these names would only make sense to die-hard fans of the series that I’ve likely already lost by the end of this paragraph anyway.)
In an attempt to find a ship to escape, Riddick (Vin Diesel) finds an outpost on the planet and activates a homing beacon, making sure he is identified in the signal. Soon, two teams of bounty hunters arrive on the planet, hoping to bag one of the most lucrative fugitives in the galaxy. However, Riddick has different plans. He sets a series of traps, hoping to take one of the ships, but an impending thunderstorm which somehow releases a cadre of bizarre monsters threatens all the human life on the planet. The bounty hunters and Riddick form a flimsy alliance to survive.
As convoluted and nonsensical as this story sounds, it actually makes sense when you watch the movie. Or, rather, the very basic structure of Riddick trying to survive makes sense while the rest is just poorly written white noise.
Where the first sequel, “The Chronicles of Riddick,” tried to expand the series into a grand science fiction epic, this one scales things back to the level we saw in “Pitch Black.” Rather than bogging the viewer down with a bizarre mix of Medieval and futuristic politics (which was the source of the previous film’s disappointing story), we return to the basic story of Vin Diesel being a general badass in a harsh environment.
While I appreciated the attempted scope of “The Chronicles of Riddick,” that film was a forgettable mess. Like Diesel’s “Fast & Furious” franchise, these movies work better with simpler plots that hinge on machismo and action. It’s not high art, but there is a certain popcorn level of enjoyment to be had here.
The star of the film is clearly Diesel, who is likeable even as a murderous fugitive. The downside to this is that whenever he isn’t on screen – which is a sizable portion of the second act of the film – things grind to a halt. It’s not that Diesel isn’t the only likeable character in the movie, though a case can be made for that. Rather, he’s the only interesting character in it. Otherwise, the film is populated by familiar faces (including Katee Sackoff from “Battlestar Galactica” and Jordi Mollà, who is most famous for playing the villain in the odious “Bad Boys II”) that do very little to actually advance the plot.
Still, I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy “Riddick” to a certain degree. The movie actually looks pretty great projected on the big screen, and while I saw it in a 4K digital presentation, I imagine it looks quite stunning in IMAX (though probably not worth the mark-up just for the visuals alone). It has a decent amount of action, and it doesn’t get unpleasantly gritty, which can happen with harder-edged films like this.
Ultimately, “Riddick” works because it abandons the bloated sci-fi epic strategy that came with its predecessor and just goes back to the well of what made the character entertaining in the first film.