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3 reviews, 5 user ratings

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by Eric Lefenfeld

"Judi Dench sits this one out. No one complains."
3 stars

It’s not advertised as such, but “Riddick” is actually a time travel movie. Not in terms of plot, mind you, but more in that it places one back in the grizzled embrace of a type of movie that’s increasingly fading into the depths of history -- the mid-grade straightforward genre film.

In today's black and white climate of oversized sci-fi blockbusters, you're either "Transformers," "Transmorphers" or the knowing wink somewhere in between. There’s not much room out there for smaller genre fare (on a mainstream level, at least) that doesn’t gloss over its subject matter with a fine sheen of ironic detachment.

David Twohy, though, who originated the Riddick character in “Pitch Black" and shepherded him through the ill-fated space opera of a sequel, "The Chronicles of Riddick," isn't just any other journeyman filmmaker, and he's proven over the years that if there's anyone who can wring gold out of occasionally middling material, it's him. The mid-90s saw Twohy as a co-writer of what should've been a massively successful one-two punch. "The Fugitive" is fondly remembered today, if only for its memorable set pieces. "Waterworld"… not so much. (Although perhaps it should be, but that's a tale for another day.). It's a little telling that between those two massive films was the goofy (but enjoyable) "Terminal Velocity," a film much more in line with the direction Twohy's career would take after his flirtation with the big leagues -- namely a transition into comfortably turning out ragged genre gems, from the pre-punchline Charlie Sheen vehicle "The Arrival," to 2009's tourists-in-trouble riff, "A Perfect Getaway."

What Twohy has consistently shown is that one doesn’t need to be "in on the joke." There doesn’t even need to be a joke in the first place if one can simply treat their subject matter with an inkling of respect. It's this modus operandi that helps some of the questionable aspects of "Riddick" go down a little bit easier.

There’s no denying that "Riddick" is a shambling Frankenstein's monster of a film, its three distinct acts each not-so elegantly carved from a different genre trope. Gone (and hastily explained away) are the brooding theatrics of “Chronicles.” In one of the film's few meta "ain't we cute" moments, Vin Diesel’s gravelly voiceover bemoans the fact that he went and “got civilized.” Riddick doesn’t have time for much interstellar royal squabbling this time out. Instead, the title character is back in his element, betrayed and trapped on a vicious alien planet with only his brawn and night vision for protection.

The first act is the strongest, in which an injured Riddick must defend himself against an array of computer generated alien beasts. Sure, the CG can be a little dodgy in both the creature effects and shots of the digitally rendered planetscape, but if Twohy's seasoned hand is doing its part behind the camera to make the most of limited means, then Vin Diesel is more than pulling his weight out in front. “Fast and Furious” sequels might be Diesel’s bread and butter these days, but it's obvious his heart belongs to Riddick, so much so that this entry in the franchise wouldn't even exist without Diesel’s tenacity in securing the rights to the character. As slight as it may be, Riddick is a passion project, and one can assume that the actor sees a lot of himself in the steely, musclebound outlaw. This isn't Bruce Willis sleepwalking his way through yet another "Die Hard" sequel, and it’s endearing to see such commitment to a role even when the film is at its silliest.

Eventually, Riddick stumbles upon a supply outpost, activates a distress beacon that announces his whereabouts… and promptly disappears for the entire second act. It's not a bad choice, necessarily -- just a little abrupt to have our protagonist swiftly transition into a shadowy slasher picking off his would-be captors one by one until they capitulate into his demands for a ship to get him off-world. It’s here where the cast widens to include two teams of bounty hunters, one a rag-tag posse led by the oily Santana (Jordi Molla), and the other a team of uniformed, well-equipped professionals under the command of Johns (Matt Nable), who has his own personal reasons for coming after Riddick. There’s an inkling of something deeper here, a universe to be explored in this divide between the streamlined and militarized crew and the dirty, cobbled-togetherness of the others, but the relentless pacing doesn’t really allow for such subtleties, and isn’t ever shooting for such a thing, anyhow. "Riddick" is a film that knows exactly where it stands. We get the standard in-fighting and bickering that comes with such territory, but as with the well-worn man vs. nature aspect of the first act, nobody involved has any illusions that they’re breaking new ground.

Katee Sackhoff, who has demonstrated on "Battlestar Galactica" that she can bring a lot more to the table than surface-level tough girl schtick, is called upon to do exactly that. Her character, Dahl (get it?), exists solely to punch sass-giving men in the face and rebuff Riddick's crass sexual advances (until she doesn't). Sackhoff and the rest of the actors, though, are well aware that they're all playing broad archetypes that were stale a day after "Aliens" was released, but as with Diesel’s performance and Twohy's sure-footed direction, that doesn’t matter when the material’s being fully embraced as a pulpy soup of action and one-liners. Similarly, Jordi Molla's Santana isn’t anything that hasn't been seen before, but he approaches his duplicitous, back-stabbing character with such glee that it’s hard not to enjoy both his mustache-twirling villainy and the inevitable come-uppance that is greeted upon his head.

This sounds like a long list of complaints, and in a way, that's accurate. There’s no denying that this ground is well-trod by any number of more accomplished films, especially as the third act devolves into a blatant “Pitch Black” redux. Every film, though, needs to be judged against itself and nothing else. As such, "Riddick" is a well-oiled machine that is confident in giving the audience exactly what one could hope for from a B-level sci-fi action film. Is it the most intelligent or innovative film to come down the pike? Not by a long shot, but Twohy and Diesel are more than aware of this, and they revel in it for all it’s worth, which automatically elevates "Riddick” above any number of middle-tier genre films.

David Twohy’s name probably won’t ever get thrown around very often when people mention favorite filmmakers. That’s too bad, but also befitting his under the radar career. He’s never going to reinvent the wheel, but he knows what he does well and continues to bring that to all of his projects. It’s a bit hyperbolic to make comparisons to John Carpenter, but heir-apparents to that two-pronged throne of workman-like professionalism and genuine creativity are few and far between.

Twohy’s not a young filmmaker using sci-fi or horror as a calling card to graduate to bigger and better things, and he’s not churning out Asylum-style hack jobs that poke fun at themselves. He’s just a filmmaker that can competently tell a ripping yarn -- a skill that’s unfortunately far too rare these days.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=24701&reviewer=430
originally posted: 09/13/13 21:19:30
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User Comments

2/27/14 mr.mike The effects were as good as Star Trek V. 2 stars
12/06/13 Pearl Bogdan Not missing much if you never see this one 2 stars
10/12/13 David H. why another movie about diesel's biceps? 2 stars
9/09/13 Man Out Six Bucks CGI creatures move like hanging string puppets. Corny ending 2 stars
9/07/13 KingNeutron I liked Chronicles; this one exceeded my expectations but nothing after the credits :( 4 stars
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  06-Sep-2013 (R)
  DVD: 14-Jan-2014


  DVD: 14-Jan-2014

Directed by
  David Twohy

Written by
  David Twohy

  Vin Diesel
  Karl Urban
  Katee Sackhoff
  Dave Bautista
  Bokeem Woodbine
  Nolan Gerard Funk

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