“Riddick” is a prime example of a movie you just don’t spend money on… Unless of course you fulfill a few different criteria. One being that you are a die-hard fan of the Riddick franchise/have an enormous man crush on Richard B. Riddick, which is completely reasonable by the way. The other being that money is simply not an obstacle to you, so spending it to excess or waste isn’t a hindrance.
Take this review with a grain of salt as this is only my opinion, and please don’t spend as much time as I have mulling over the story and plot of this inadvertent remake of the first film in the Riddick franchise, “Pitch Black”. Fanboys should remember the failure of 2004’s “Chronicles of Riddick”, yet despite its toned down PG-13 rating, director David Twohy brings “Riddick” back to the gory and more explicit formula that made “Pitch Black” seem to work so much better. I might add I was a fan of Riddick in both previous entries.
“Riddick” starts out Book of Eli-style as Riddick chokeholds an alien on some planet he’s been stranded on. There’s a little bit of back story, narrated of course by the low tonal voice of Diesel himself. You are guaranteed to be lost if you aren’t at all familiar with Riddick’s back story (as told in the other films) but even those who know their way around will soon realize the storyline clearly never really mattered to Twohy anyway.
It’s not so much the environment. In fact, the opening 30 minutes of “Riddick” is quite entertaining. Riddick learns to survive in the harsh conditions of this new planet and he even trains up a wolf-alien-beast-dog. Audiences may grow just a little attached to their on-screen friendship. However, just as soon as we start thinking we are in for a treat, the “Pitch Black” formula is suddenly executed. Unfortunately, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks… Or in this case… a wolf alien dog or something.
Riddick finds some distress beacon or something and before you know it, there are bounty hunters crawling all over Riddick’s territory. Clearly he just needs a ride off the planet, but the ‘mercs’ that land are here to kill. This is where “Riddick” starts to fall apart. Suddenly we don’t see Riddick for a while, and Twohy forces us to hang out with two groups of mindless killers. We miss him, and we don’t like them, and by the time he’s finally getting screen time, Twohy has lost us completely.
Jordi Mollá plays Santana, the boss mercenary of the first group, alongside Diaz, also known as wrestler Dave Bautista, who for some reason decided to pursue an acting career. If you have seen the third installment in the “Scorpion King” franchise, or “Man with the Iron Fists” you might be skeptical as well. Diaz is so-so, and Santana is a mess. He’s somehow landed the respect of a group of cutthroat killers yet he flinches at the sight of a fellow mercenary being cut into thirds. He’s a revolting rapist who we feel no sympathy for. Perhaps we wish he wasn’t even in our story.
Within time, a second group lands on this undisclosed planet. I guess the leader of this group, Boss Johns (Matt Nable) is the father of some character from “Chronicles of Riddick” or something, but who knows at this point. He brings some forgettable gun-slingers with him, and also the butch Dahl (Katee Sackhoff). You may know her from “Battlestar Galactica” but all we know is Dahl finds every opportunity to counter an argument with whatever string of curses come to her mind first. She’s quite bland, and besides the completely endless and pointless 30-second shot of some naked women caressing Riddick earlier on, she stands in the nude, taking a shower. This is a wonderful example of a director who seems to have lost his vision of what makes a movie work and resorts to including absurd and fruitless scenes that do nothing to push the story forward. It almost feels borderline offensive, especially if Twohy had to stand in front of a room full of women and explain why he believed these were thoughtful and meaningful inclusions to “Riddick”… But I digress.
The script plays not only off of “Pitch Black” constantly (mercenaries here to kill Riddick realize that nightfall will kill them first, then realizing they need Riddick in order to survive) but relies on well-known sci-fi references or clichés to move forward. Aliens try to break in through every crevice of a building filled with guys with tons of firepower… “Aliens” anyone? Or how about when the ‘mercs’ hop on their Harley Davidson inspired hover bikes? It screams swoop bikes from “Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi”. Sometimes elements like these work as homage to the old greats in filmmaking history, but here they feel lazy, and devoid of imagination.
The banter back and forth between characters is sometimes painful, or usually painful. It’s the kind of dialog you are writing in your head as the movie progresses. Imagine two four-year-old children bickering back and forth. Now pretend they are twenty years older and are dropping “f” bombs every other word. I used foresight and predicted multiple lines in the movie before they were even said by the actor. Is this a sign that I wouldn’t know good dialog if it hit me in the face? Perhaps it’s all my own fault anyway. All of this to say, “Riddick” is very predictable, but maybe it’s only because I’ve seen “Pitch Black”. That was, after all, a much more fun science fiction flick.
I’ve been harsh here, but it’s only because I believe Twohy could do much better. This is practically a give-up effort, and it’s sad to see the franchise has fallen this low.
In order to prevent the two ships from leaving the planet without him, Riddick steals some sort of power core from the groups. In effect, he holds the entire situation in his hands, without anyone able to leave. Riddick holds collateral over the mercs, not allowing them to leave the planet, and in the same way, the only thing holding us in our theater seating is the fact that we paid $9 for a movie ticket.