PLOT: Solemn anti-hero Richard B. Riddick finds himself stranded on a hellish planet faced with mercenaries and vicious alien creatures targeting his head.
REVIEW: RIDDICK is like one of those cheesy 80s/90s era Roger Corman flicks that you'd see on late-night cable given a proper budget. It's thoroughly cheesy, short on imagination (but high on testosterone and death), not very clever but sort of amusing in a self-deprecating way. It relishes its very B-movieness and makes no apologies for that, so anyone expecting high art will of course come away disappointed. It also ditches the sweeping aspirations of its predecessor, THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK and returns to the gritty roots of the first film to feature its protagonist, PITCH BLACK.
While RIDDICK's goal to entertain on a very basic level is admirable, the movie is also a bit clunky and undisciplined; writer-director David Twohy and producer-star Vin Diesel certainly love their central character and his no-nonsense approach to dealing with every obstacle that comes his way, but they also don't know when to quit. RIDDICK is almost 2 hours long, which is way too long for a movie of this sort; it could lose 20 minutes easily. Perhaps they should have asked Mr. Corman for advice?
The most expendable section of the film is the first act, although the conflict is that the first section is the most unusual and intriguing. Richard B. Riddick wakes up on a desolate planet filled with strange creatures of every sort; eventually, he makes a friend in the form of an alien hyena-dog critter, and the two of them survey the wasteland together. Twohy spends a surprising amount of time on this, simply allowing us to re-familiarize ourselves with the anti-hero, who is predictably able to stare down every challenge that awaits him, even if it's a giant scorpion thing that slithers around the planet's lakes. Twohy thinks this is Sergio Leone type stuff, and it's actually kind of cool to witness the director let the movie play out at it's own pace. For a while.
However, once we're quite familiar with Riddick's plight, Twohy makes the interesting choice to relegate him to supporting character as we're introduced to two teams of bounty hunters who descend upon the planet, intent on capturing the fugitive. (Riddick actually calls for help with the idea of hijacking one of the ships and hightailing it out of the increasingly hostile environment.) Each team is captained by a headstrong leader; one is an honorable man (Matt Nable) with a strong interest in capturing Riddick; the other is a sleazy creep (Jordi Molla) who literally wants to put Riddick's head in a box. Twohy takes much time establishing these men and their teams (filled with the usual Alpha male personalities, undesirables and one bad-ass chick played by Katee Sackhoff) while Riddick basically waits out their bickering in the shadows, and the movie sort of sits in neutral while we wait for the main event, whatever that may be.
This stuff is fun but unnecessary; it feels like Twohy is trying to think of something to happen and biding his time. Eventually he gets around to bringing Riddick back to the center stage, where he must convince his enemies that a veritable army of those scorpion creatures are coming to raise hell and they had better leave town fast. RIDDICK essentially turns into another variation of PITCH BLACK at this point, which doesn't necessarily speak to Twohy's creativity, but he is pretty good at schlocky thrills and entertaining death sequences. He's less good at directing action; he's not very adept at making a fistfight (or a fight between man and monster) coherent, and most of the action sequences come off as a grab-bag of punches, rifle shots and incomprehensible movement. Twohy's forte is in the macho posturing and verbal putdowns, of which there are plenty.
But I'm still moved to be kind toward RIDDICK, which is obviously working with limited resources; this was an independently produced film, and sometimes it shows (some very obvious green-screen action on display). Yet that's what adds considerable charm to the proceedings; these guys are doing it rough-and-tumble style. "If we want to make a monster movie/western in our basement, let's just do it!" you can almost hear them say, and more power to them, because they've done it handily - even if this thing does ramble on a bit long and it's a bit goofy. Let us be honest: Vin Diesel isn't easy to take seriously, nor is Riddick that interesting of a character, but the actor is perfect for the character and the character is perfect for this movie. Here's a badass with little to say other than "get out of my way and let me handle my business." That's Diesel - and RIDDICK.