by Daniel Rester
The summer has just come to a close, and now the fall season begins with Diesel and the Dingo. I mean, um, Riddick. The film stars macho actor Vin Diesel in the title role, and for much of the film he has a dingo-like creature as a companion. Riddick follows the lean and mean Pitch Black (2000) and the bloated The Chronicles of Riddick (2004). Thankfully, Riddick has trimmed the fat and gone back to the satisfying basics with the character — as Chronicles proved that the universe around him was less interesting than him.
With the opening shots and narration of Riddick, we find the antihero betrayed and left for dead on a barren planet. The character grunts, “Don’t know how many times I’ve been crossed off the list and left for dead.” Neither do we. We just accept that he is a badass Furyan bent on surviving the many obstacles that stand in his way in life.
A few of the obstacles on this new planet (which Riddick hilariously describes as “Not Furya”): hot and dusty lands, little water, dingo-like things, and underwater scorpion-like monsters. The first chunk of the film concerns Riddick surviving such hindrances in his attempt to not get crossed off the list once again. The stakes get higher, though, when he finds a shelter and uses an emergency beacon.
The beacon causes two different sets of mercenaries to show up, with both wanting Riddick because he has a large bounty on his head. But some real agendas soon get revealed and the creepy-crawlies begin to come out, so this causes some changes to present themselves to the situation.
The first part of Riddick is its strongest, proving that Diesel can really hold the screen by himself if he needs to. As the character stomps across CGI deserts, plots strategies, and hunts for food, we really come to root for him. It would have been interesting if writer-director David Twohy would have continued on this path. Instead the audience is then treated to a midsection that mostly involves cardboard mercenaries. Then we get a third section that is more in the vein of Black. So, the film almost works like three different B-grade sci-fi flicks at once, but with one nearly excellent and the other two just entertaining from time to time.
Diesel, returning to the character that helped make his name as an actor, is still the main attraction here. Say what you will about the actor’s range, or lack thereof, but as Riddick he has a certain antihero toughness and charm that is quite enjoyable.
The other actors on the screen don’t fare as well. Such people as Karl Urban, Katee Sackhoff, Matt Nable, Jordi Molla, and Dave Bautista all show up to the game, but no one besides Riddick is ever really worth rooting for. All of the actors are okay, with Molla especially entertaining as a guy named Santana, but their characters are pretty dull and they spout off some atrocious dialogue (which is probably the film’s biggest weakness). The dingo is actually more engaging than any of these side characters.
Twohy and co-writers Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell made a smart choice in not trying to cover too much ground with this character again. It is actually refreshing to see a sequel that is just trying to provide escapism and isn’t concerned with setting up a ton of other things or trying to win over many new fans. It just seeks to give some good thrills and surprises to its target audience, which it succeeds at doing. Along the way, it also dishes out a few laughs and creative uses of CGI (which is impressive, since the film’s budget wasn’t huge).
Riddick is a thin B-grade sci-fi film that is done skillfully; it’s never as poorly constructed as a TV sci-fi pic, but it also is not pretending to be an A-grade blockbuster. Diesel and his dingo, some brisk action, and the expected “good cheesiness” from the film really help give it a fun vibe. Fans will obviously enjoy it more than most, but anyone wanting simple R-rated escapism should be satisfied.
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: B)