Review: ‘Riddick’ Cheerfully Accepts Its Self-Imposed Limitations

Vin Diesel in 'Riddick' (Universal)
Vin Diesel in ‘Riddick’ (Universal)

A goofy programmer that morphs from a science-fiction version of Jeremiah Johnson into a back-alley riff on Aliens, David Twohy’s Riddick barely holds together as a movie, but its joie de vivre cannot be denied.

As the titular character, a fearsome warrior left for dead on a planet uninhabited by humans, Vin Diesel brings his personal charisma and physical agility to the role, which is left largely undefined beyond the aforementioned qualities. Lip service is paid to the idea that Riddick has been abandoned because he has lost his ‘animal spirit,’ perhaps a reference to the first two films that featured the character, 2000’s Pitch Black and 2004’s The Chronicles of Riddick, both directed by Twohy, who has written or co-written all three installments.

Twohy has a strong understanding of genre dynamics, as evidenced by his track record (as a writer/director, his credits include Below and A Perfect Getaway), so the screen is kept filled, showing off a motley collection of CGI beasts that are constantly trying to eat Riddick. Roughly the first third of the action is devoted to a solo survival tale, accompanied only by Diesel’s gravel-voiced narration. Unlike Robert Redford’s Jeremiah Johnson, however, Riddick’s life is continually in peril; he barely has time to take a breath from one animal attack before another dangerously fanged, sharp-toothed, seemingly invincible animal is trying to take a bite out of him.

Finally he decides that his only hope for survival is to set off a beacon that will alert bounty hunters to his location, which is also a signal for the movie to shift into Aliens mode. Very, very quickly, a mangy team led by the oily Santana (Jordi Molla) arrives to pick up their target; Santana thinks Riddick will be easy pickings, but his #2 man Diaz (Dave Bautista) isn’t so sure. Shortly thereafter, a second, more disciplined team lands on the planet, this group headed by Boss Johns (Matt Nable) and featuring his #2, Dahl (Katee Sackhoff, looking even more lethal than she did in Battlestar Galactica).

The combined manpower and firepower of both teams are no match for the mighty Riddick, of course, who starts to lay waste to them. And then an approaching storm forces everyone into an easy truce that will prove to be no less deadly for the humans than the all-out war that preceded it.

Despite the accumuluation of dismembered corpses, no serious tension is ever generated — it’s really, really hard to make computer pixels look threatening — and the action sequences are the usual junkpile of quick cuts and odd angles and bodily fluids. Yet the film rolls along at a snappy pace and Twohy provides the requisite macho wisecracks and rejoinders, spit out by the game cast with the appropriate level of disrespect and disdain.

Diesel is sufficiently convincing as a bad-ass, while Molla and Nable are solid leaders, and Bautista and Woodbine, as well as Raoul Trujillo, Conrad Pla, Nolan Gerard Funk and the rest of the cast, including Karl Urban, are appropriately buff, gruff, and tough. Kate Sackhoff acquits herself best of all, her self-confident swagger a treat to watch.

Unaccountably, Sackhoff’s character is sometimes left behind while the men head out to do battle, but she’s a loyal soldier and never questions the authority that has left her on the sidelines. In that respect, she’s a good stand-in for the movie as a whole: Riddick is loyal and never questions the creative authority that has determined it should be nothing more than an extremely straightforward search-and-destroy mission.

The film opens wide throughout the Metroplex on Friday, September 6.

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