On DVD: Future Misogynistic — The Chronic Lulls of “Riddick”

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Guest Review by Russ Schwartz

You know, I kind of loved Riddick, Vin Diesel’s antisocial antihero whose charisma eclipsed the middling sci-fi flick Pitch Black in 2000. His appeal convinced writer/director David Twohy to expand the Riddick-verse with 2004’s The Chronicles of Riddick, which re-imagined the character as a galactic Conan the Barbarian inhabiting a pulpy patchwork of sci-fi and fantasy themes. The result was unfocused, but I applauded the effort for going its own grunge-rock way; it seemed fitting to end with Riddick being declared king of an insane warrior civilization.

So I was on Riddick’s side when Riddick began, and stayed there a good twenty minutes. An interesting opening sequence shows an injured Riddick struggling to survive an alien wasteland, having been betrayed and left to die. Diesel carries it nicely, accompanied by some impressive monster effects. The sequence hints at a decent movie. Unfortunately for us, he is soon beset by two factions of mercenaries, who spend a long time shouting at each other. There is some plot, some macho posturing, and eventually the realization that the mercs are the hunted, not the hunters. This is meant to switch Riddick’s role from hero to monster-in-the-dark, but instead, the story falls flat and never recovers, and no amount of “sweet kill, dude” moments can help that.

Rather than have the mercs discuss, oh, say, their plans or motivations, a distressing amount of their conversation centers on who the lone female merc, Dahl (Katee Sackhoff), will or won’t sleep with. She’s strong enough to beat down anyone who pushes the talk to action, but – news flash – this doesn’t mean she’s immune to being objectified by the movie itself, as shown in the obligatory shower scene. Apart from being obvious, offensive “fan service,” its inclusion feels tired, even in a film full of used scenes. The role is a waste of Sackhoff, who gave us one of the best heroines in the genre with her complex, troubled Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica.

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Riddick becomes a retread of Pitch Black with rain-monsters instead of dark-monsters and the only interesting thread is that of Boss Johns (Matt Nable). Johns, whose name will tell fans that he has unfinished business with Riddick, is the only character to pursue a conversation with the target, finally giving us a taste of the gravelly, nihilistic charm that launched the series. Diesel is fun to watch, but he has nowhere to take the character after the opening scenes. It’s a mystery why the survivors love him at the end.

The story’s momentum and coherence is sacrificed for small gains. In one case, to confuse the audience long enough for Riddick to play a trick on the mercs, the film abandons a scene depicting an attempted rape and then all but ignores the outcome. At another moment, a merc reveals that he knows something about the monsters – but then, why hasn’t he said anything yet, and why is he saying it to the wrong person, and why is his information useless?

If monsters, mercs, a shower scene and gore are your thing, you can take or leave the connecting tissue. Even given that low standard, Riddick fails because it gets boring and stays that way. For all its supposed fan service, Riddick might lose a lot of Riddick fans.

Despite what its advertising campaign and the previous two films might make you think, Riddick is not a film to see with the kids. The R rating is deserved for its violence, language, and way more sexual content than a film like this needs.

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