“Riddick” — A Routine and Clumsy Sci-fi Action

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Vin Diesel and director David Twohy launched the sci-fi muscle bound action hero in the 2000 with “Pitch Black.” I t was his first leading role and it became an immediate success. Later, Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto in “Fast and Furious” movies made him the big Hollywood commodity, he is now. However, Diesel’s CG-bloated “The Chronicles of Riddick” (2004) was a huge box-office dud. After nine years, he has taken the role as a producer and has made “Riddick” with roughly one-third the cost of “Chronicles” ($38 million). Is it good? It recaptures much of the stripped-down intensity of the bald-pated hero, by chucking out the grand design of “Chronicles.” However, it is only half as good as “Pitch Black.”

“Riddick” was basically divided into three acts. In the first act, Riddick was deposed in a dusty, hellish planet. He remembers how he got to that planet, which hearkens back to the story of “Chronicles.” After assessing the unfriendly planet, he immediately goes on a survival mode. Like the Man Vs Wild TV show, he sets his own broken bones, hardens himself to deadly venom and makes friends with a native predator. The predator looks like an offspring of a Zebra and pit bull terrier. He is stranded between mountains and to get to a larger landscape, Riddick must kill the carnivorous giant scorpion-like creature. The first 30 minutes, which is all about Riddick’s survival is the only good act, when compared with the other two acts.

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Knowing that he has a large bounty on his head, he sends off a distress beacon to lure in the mercenaries and plans to steal their ship. A group of meatheads and their loathsome leader Santana (Jordi Molla) wants to put Riddick’s head in a box. Soon, another team of hunters, set foot on the planet, whose commander Boss Johns (Matt Nable) has his own reasons for wanting to hunt down Riddick. During this act, Riddick mostly disappears from the narrative. The pace slackens, here and in the final act, the film tries to up the ante by forcing the survivors to band together against an alien menace (which doesn’t work better).

We can’t complain that “Riddick” is over-the-top. Anyone, who has seen previous installments and lot of sci-fi actions, should easily guess that it is going to be cheesy and turgid. But, what might irk a viewer is the way, the movie and their character unfolds. The characters are two-dimensional and stupid, as usual. The dialogues are very dull and after the first 30 minutes, plot progression sets in tedium. There is of course, Vin Diesel’s gleeful macho bluster, but these moments are highly scattered, marooning viewers into vast wastelands of stupefied interactions.

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Vin Diesel looks menacing and comfortable as the convict, wandering around darkness. The 46 year old star does well in the action sequences. It also makes us wonder, what he would accomplish if he stopped doing the same roles again and again (this series and the “Fast and Furious” franchise). The supporting performances are lead by Jordi Malla’s generic sadist and Matt Nable’s clichéd noble fighter. Katee Sackoff embodies the mundane strong female character to give the viewer, a Sarah Connor or Ripley like character.

The last act, where Riddick fights off alien creatures might have worked better if it had been given more time to develop and the ending sets stage for another sequel (which might happen, since the movie collected $18 million in the opening weekend). “Riddick” is back to the basics with its minimal plot and CGI, but still remains far from being truly good. It’s another campy Hollywood B-grade pulp.

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