With his macho clout restored and his tanks refueled with “Fast & Furious 6” juice, Vin Diesel makes a game stab at resurrecting his pet character, the glowering Furyan antihero Richard B. Riddick, in a stripped-down, throwback third episode of “Riddick.”
After launching with the muscular, B-movie starkness of 2000’s “Pitch Black,” the would-be franchise got badly bogged down in the self-serious mythologizing and bloated, mock-epic extravagance of 2004’s “The Chronicles of Riddick.” Now, Diesel, who reportedly helped conceive the character with writer-director David Twohy based on a favored Dungeons and Dragons figure of his youth, has literally mortgaged his house to help finance this third go at keeping the scrappy series alive.
“Riddick” unfolds in three distinct chapters, with the first finding our weary, morose warrior left for dead on a blighted desert planet far from his beloved Furya (a barren place that the taciturn Riddick describes as “Not Furya”). This grimly artful and nearly wordless sequence aptly shows off Diesel’s virile charisma as he holds the screen alone while Riddick gathers his strength and fends off all manner of snarling beasties to gain dominance over his environment. Even with its wonky, low-budget CGI effects, this chapter is powerfully compelling.
Then Diesel fades to the shadowy fringes in chapter two, as two competing bands of bounty hunters show up, determined to take Riddick’s head home on a pike. The skuzzier gang of mercenaries is led by a thug named Santana (Jordi Molla, who’s not big on subtlety), while the by-the-book band is commanded by the stoic Boss Johns (Matt Nable, a rugby footballer turned actor).
As Riddick plays cat and mouse with these generic foes, the film throws off distinct echoes of “Pitch Black,” with loads of “Alien” vibes flying around here and there.
After brutally picking off the obvious sacrificial lambs and cardboard target goons that make up the mercenaries, Riddick rallies the remaining bounty hunters in chapter three to fight off a chaotic, rickety, nocturnal assault by slimy, invading CGI monsters. It’s here that the film’s small budget and ticky-tacky production values give themselves away most woefully. But, to his credit, Diesel – his bullet pate glistening and his flinty eyes glowing with menace – manages to keep audience attention largely riveted on Riddick and not his shabby, soundstage surroundings.
If “Riddick” sometimes goes off track with its clumsy technical shortcomings, it nearly derails completely with its dicey depiction of the film’s only female character – the brash, quasi-lesbian warrior Dahl (played by the buff Katee Sackhoff, a.k.a Starbuck of “Battlestar Gallactica” fame). The character is pure, misogynistic, fanboy fantasy. It just feels lurid and cheap, and it undermines much of the underdog good will that this project might otherwise have accrued. Sackhoff certainly deserves better.
While this sequel serves as an apt testament to Diesel’s particular brand of scowling charisma, it largely comes off as a vain attempt to replicate the lightning-in-a-bottle spirit of that first movie. “Riddick” may live on in future installments, but he’ll no doubt be forever cursing the sleek darkness that was “Pitch Black.”
- Dennis King
Starring: Vin Diesel, Katee Sackhoff, Jordi Molla, Matt Nable
(Strong violence, language, some sexual content/nudity)