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3 reviews, 5 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"Pitch Better-Than-Average"
4 stars

Released in 2000 to little fanfare, the modestly-scaled "Pitch Black" was a surprisingly effective genre effort that took an ingenious premise (a transport ship crash-lands on a distant two-sun planet populated with vicious creatures that only thrive in the dark just in time for a rare double eclipse) and did right by it thanks to effective execution and a captivating breakout performance by the relatively unknown Vin Diesel as Riddick, a vicious prisoner reluctantly thrust into a leadership position when his ability to see perfectly in total darkness becomes the key to everyone's survival. Although not a huge commercial hit, it did become a cult favorite on home video and that, coupled with Diesel's ascendancy to stardom after his followup, "The Fast & The Furious," ensured that a sequel would soon be over. Alas, "The Chronicles of Riddick" (2004) was a bloated bore that was produced on an obviously grander scale than the original (it cost over $100 million to produce and featured no less a figure than Dame Judi Dench in the cast) but the story--an unholy fusion of the worst parts of "Conan the Barbarian" and "Dune"--lacked its ingenuity, wit and sense of fun.

The end result was enough of a critical and commercial flop to suggest that there would be no further Riddick-related movies anytime soon but now, no doubt as a byproduct of the surprising resilience of the "Fast & The Furious" series, "Riddick" has now arrived in an attempt to pull the franchise out from beneath the rubble of the previous installment (literally at one point) and once again make it into a profitable concern. For the most part pretending that "The Chronicles of Riddick" never existed--an excellent decision under the circumstances--this is a lean and efficient blend of sci-fi, action and horror that is as modestly scaled and unassuming as "Pitch Black" and is all the better for it. The end result may not be a masterpiece by any means but it generates more genuine excitement than most of the failed would-be blockbusters that we have endured over the last few months.

In the only acknowledgement to the previous film, the story opens with Riddick willingly sacrificing the kingdom he inherited for a chance to return at long last to his home planet of Furya, only to be betrayed and left for dead on an unknown world where the native populations appear to consist entirely of nasty-looking jackal-like creature and some really nasty-looking thing that look like a cross between an eel and a scorpion and which thrive on water. Actually, most of the first half-hour of the film follows Riddick as he negotiates his new surroundings, unexpectedly taming and befriending a jackal pup along the way. With his extraordinary ocular powers, Riddick can see that the rains are approaching and that his only chance for survival is to get off of the planet before his area is overrun with the eel creatures.

Riddick is still one of the most wanted people in the universe and before long, two groups of bounty hunters arrive to nab him--one led by hothead Santana (Jordi Molla) who is driven by bloodlust and a reward offer that will double if Riddick is brought back dead and the other led by Johns (Matt Nable), whose interest in his prey this time around is far more personal. The middle section of the film finds these two groups forming an uneasy alliance in order to capture their prey but continually find themselves outwitted by him and completely at his mercy. By this time, however, the rain has arrived and all parties must band together in a desperate effort to fight off the advancing hordes of creatures and get off the planet for good, though not before Riddick once again proves that he is, if nothing else, a man of his word.

Like the previous films in the series, "Riddick" was written and directed by David Twohy and while the name may not be that familiar to the general moviegoing population, he has been on any number of interesting projects over the years--he worked on the screenplays for "The Fugitive" and the better-than-you-remember "Waterworld" and directed the impressive WW II sub drama "Below" and the spectacularly effective thriller "A Perfect Getaway." Like his best previous work, "Riddick" is a simple and effective B movie that is more concerned with telling a good story in a clean and direct manner than it is in dazzling viewers with expensive CGI effects and elaborately staged set-pieces. This is not to say that the film is lacking in a distinct and impressive visual style--it does, but it too is a throwback to the old days of practical effects and matte paintings and presenting scenes in ways that don't appear to be trying to break the land speed record for edits-per-second. Compared to the slickness of today's sci-fi spectaculars, "Riddick" may look a little rough around the edges at times but as far as I am concerned, that is just one of its many charms.

The most memorable special effect on display in "Riddick," however, is none other than Vin Diesel himself. That he possesses tons of on-screen charisma is something that cannot be denied but he also has some serious acting chops as well, as he has demonstrated in the past in films ranging the gamut from his vocal performance in the title role of the brilliant animated film "The Iron Giant" to his knockout work as an amiable Mob goon on trial in Sidney Lumet's sadly under-seen "Find Me Guilty." Here, with his impassive gaze and a voice so low and grumbly that it sounds as though he is gargling Harvey Fierstein throughout, Diesel is the epitome of badass machismo but at the same time, he manages to find a certain dry wit to the character without ever letting him him seem like a joke. This is trickier than it sounds--for every actor who manages to pull it off, like Clint Eastwood in the Sergio Leone westerns, there are any number of those who have tried and wound up looking foolish--but Diesel does it with more grace and ease than one might expect in a film of this type.

"Riddick" is not a perfect film--after the genuinely audacious opening 25 minutes or so, the rest of the film never quite manages to rescale those heights and I wish that some of the supporting characters had been fleshed out a little more. Nevertheless, this is good stuff for the most part and even if you somehow missed "Pitch Black" and "The Chronicles of Riddick," it is strong enough to stand on its own and it might even inspire you to look up at least "Pitch Black" in order to see what you have been missing. I'll put it this way. Before walking into the screening of "Riddick," I can't say that I was completely giddy with the prospect of seeing it based on my less-than-fond memories of "The Chronicles of Riddick" but after watching it, I am now eagerly awaiting a fourth film to see what Twohy and Diesel have in store for the character next.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=24701&reviewer=389
originally posted: 09/05/13 23:13:50
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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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