By Michael Phillips
4:45 PM EDT, September 5, 2013
From the dusty annals of a science-fiction franchise belonging to another age — that of "Pitch Black" (2000) and "The Chronicles of Riddick" (2004) and several video-game variations — comes a modestly scaled summer picture continuing a legend that time and many moviegoers forgot. And it's fun!
"Riddick" is extremely violent, cleverly managed fun — full of eviscerating aliens, Vin Diesel making those little swimmie-goggles look sharp and Katee Sackhoff of "Battlestar Galactica" swaggering around as a sexually ambiguous bounty hunter stuck with a bunch of guys on a crummy planet. That planet is ruled (more or less) by the escaped prisoner Riddick, whose story is recapped in the film, but there's not much to it, don't worry.
This is not one of those Johnny-come-lately sequels preoccupied with getting a new audience up to speed on where the story was. It's about living in the moment, in the now, and killing in the now.
The character name Riddick suggests a wee person, played perhaps by Billy Barty or Warwick Davis. But it's Vin Diesel, who is not wee. He takes care of his adversaries in a plotline recalling Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None," except here it's: "And Then There Was Vin."
And here's the beauty part, to the extent writer-director David Twohy's simple, compact movie can be called beautiful: The bounty hunters are all individuals, and you actually care about some of them, so it's not simply a "Saw"-type grinder of a movie, wherein we wonder how the next side of beef is going to get sliced. I mean, we do wonder that, but there are other things going on.
"Riddick" opens with a near-wordless sequence set on a hot, scrubby planet, where our antihero, betrayed by the Necromongers (there, that's it: done with the plot summary), is left for dead among the winged beasts and fanged squid-like denizens of the swamps. The opening half-hour of Twohy's picture is a grabber, a chronicle of Riddick dealing with the swamp things, and his domestication of an alien jackal dog. The occasional voice-over ("Whole damn planet wanted a piece of me") reminds us that Riddick can, in fact, speak if needed.
Then come the bounty hunters, some old, some new, and "Riddick" turns into a different picture, one that scrambles your sympathies nicely as Riddick squares off against the meanest of them while everyone contends with ace creature designer Patrick Tatopoulos' alien animal kingdom. The movie's worth seeing simply for the ace-of-spades-shaped ears on the hero's pet dingo.
The first half is more compelling than the second; the flying effects, with zippy hovercrafts, look cheese ball and the whole of "Riddick" smacks of being filmed in GreenScreenLand, which it was. (And Montreal.) Yet more persuasively than the recent "After Earth" and "Oblivion," "Riddick" makes an entertaining survival-guide virtue of its main character's isolation.
The side characters all get their share of profane zingers. The audience comes away sated. In the 13 years since the first Riddick chronicle, Diesel has discovered what it means to be a certain kind of movie star, working hard but not too, serving material that, here, does what it's supposed to do.
MPAA rating: R for strong violence, language and some sexual content/nudity
Running time: 1 hour, 59 minutes
Playing: In wide release
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