It was a decade ago that we met the mysterious, uber-tough Furyan Riddick (Vin Diesel) in the sci-fi horror film Pitch Black. Playing with the concept of what you can’t see can indeed hurt you, it was a fun start to a somewhat lackluster franchise, even as Diesel found the Fast and Furious films considerably more lucrative and likely more fun too.
A few years after Pitch Black came The Chronicles of Riddick, a big budget sci-fi spectacle about bounty hunters, interplanetary invasion, prison planets, and a race of men turned into “Necromongers”, a futuristic sort of zombie. Incoherent and frequently silly, I still enjoyed The Chronicles of Riddick and the mythology it built. I was, however, alone because it did poorly in the box office and took almost a decade for Riddick, the third film in the series, to come out.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t long enough to produce a coherent film and an even acceptable script, and what we have instead is a boring film that often feels more like a filmed stage production or low-budget Outward Bound journey.
This third film opens with an injured Riddick stranded on a desert planet, sun scorched and inhabited by weird creatures. While trying to heal himself, Riddick contemplates how he ended up abandoned, through which we learn that Commander Vaako (Karl Urban) tricked him to his demise.
Okay, a revenge film, right? Riddick heals, steals a spaceship and goes after Vaako. Ah, if only it were so. Whether the budget didn’t support it or not, 99% of the film takes place on the planet’s surface with the few off-planet scenes feeling more like cut footage from Chronicles than newly shot material the helps establish a story arc or character motivation.
Eventually Riddick heals (medicine? doctors? who needs ’em if you’re a Furyon?) and uses a ruse to coax two ships of bounty hunters to the planet. Riddick ended Chronicles as Lord Marshall but he’s still a convict on the lam with a major price on his head.
One ship is populated by South American-style mercenary cliches, captained by Santana (Jordi Molla) who prefers his shiny machete to an actual energy weapon. His crew are instantly forgettable characters that are hard to tell apart, all dressed in their “guerrilla wear” outfits, along with soulful young Luna (Nolan Gerard Funk) who prays out loud at the most inopportune moments.
The other ship has the Starship Trooper clones, clad in identical black commando outfits and captained by Boss Johns (Matt Nable) and his own crew of forgettable characters. Except for the lovely Dahl (Katee Sackhoff), who makes it clear from the very beginning that she’s a lesbian and not interested in men. At all.
Until Riddick comes along, and when he foretells the future, that she’ll soon be asking him to be intimate with her, she is suitably angry, but later, well, let’s just say that I think that gay rights advocates are going to be pretty upset with how this particular story thread resolves. I was embarrassed and surprised no-one objected as the film development proceeded.
A film like Riddick should be a guilty pleasure. It’s not going to be cerebral, it’s not going to have any sort of profound statement about humanity, about our ability to get along or create harmony. It’s going to be action, shiny sci-fi, kicking butt, cracking wise-ass comments and general action and mayhem.
Except Riddick never gets off the ground. The film really feels like a low-budget sci-fi film more than anything else, a film where the first hour is essentially just tracking Riddick’s process of healing and learning to get back to his Furyon roots and survive. “The biggest mistake I made was to ever get civilized” he says at one point, making me hope that we’ll see more animal cunning and bursts of activity.
Ultimately, Riddick’s a yawner. Both Riddick the character and Riddick the movie. My advice: Maybe on DVD. But more likely look for it on HBO or Showtime within a few months. And have your friends over so you can all snicker at the many technical gaffes, continuity errors and poor acting (I’m looking at you, Molla).