The drought is officially over. No, not the dearth of good films, just my absence from movie theaters. As the summer ends and we creep into fall, a confluence of circumstances has come together to keep me away from my holy temple for three long weeks, 21 days, 504 hours (not that I was counting or anything). I have returned to school and that limits opportunities. Football has restarted and now the holy ground of the L.A. Coliseum calls to me many Saturdays, we will ignore the desecration that took place two weeks ago. Finally, good movies have dried up, making a trip to the theater difficult to plan unless I want to repeat something or trek forty miles to see something new that I might be interested in. “Riddick” represents a methadone injection, it scratches the itch but is not as satisfying as an addict might want. I saw “Pitch Black” when it came out ten years ago, and I thought it was an effective piece of science fiction/horror hokum. I only saw it the one time so I can’t recall any details. “The Chronicles of Riddick” made it onto my plate as a Saturday afternoon satellite film. Since I subscribe to everything, it came up and I watched. Again, just the one time and my memory of it is even fuzzier, though it was the more recent experience. So if I am not a big fan you ask, why did this new film draw me back to theaters? Well it turns out that my delightful oldest child is a fan and we seldom get to go together to the movies anymore. We do share some tastes and when an opportunity knocks I am going to open the door. As a bonus, today we were joined by her husband, a rather large man who seldom travels to a movie so it was a fun change of pace.
One of the nice things about a movie like this is that the history of the character is mostly irrelevant to the story that is being told. “Betrayed again, shoulda seen it coming. Especially since the first time it happened was the day I was born.” That is the opening line of the movie and it is as much as you really need to know. Riddick is a badass who has crappy things happen to him and then he solves those problems with extreme prejudice. He has killed something in front of our eyes before we have even seen him, so you know what is coming. There is a short flashback sequence to explain how he was abandoned on this hostile planet. This is the only sequence that Karl Urban appears in so if he is the reason you are thinking of taking a flyer on this film, don’t. He has maybe ninety seconds of screen time. The first half of the movie is pretty much Vin Diesel doing his growling thing. When you pay to see a movie starring Vin, it is unlikely that dialogue is what you want to see and hear. You want action sequences and hard guy attitude. Well, you will get the hard guy attitude, but the action sequences are not quite as involving as they could be.
So Riddick is trapped on the planet and has to figure out how to survive. This entails scoping out the landscape, assessing the local monsters and figuring out how to shelter himself. One of the ways in which he integrates himself into the world is by doing Will Smith in “I am Legend”. His CGI costar is actually kind of fun, but you know in the long run it isn’t going to be a happy ending. It is standard man in the wilderness film making except that the wilderness is a giant planet teeming with vicious creatures that special effects computers render in abundance. The look of the movie is interesting but you can notice at times that they cut some corners on visual effects in order to make them inexpensive. It won’t undermine your enjoyment of the movie any unless you are uptight like that. Once Riddick has figured out that there is a mercenary way station on the planet (a sort of bounty hunters cabin in the woods), he sends out a notice that he is there, basically trying to get a ride off the planet. For reasons that are never gone into, Riddick is the most notorious criminal in the universe and every planet seems to have put out a bounty on him. As soon as he makes himself known, two competing crews of mercenaries show up to capture and kill him. Of course the bounty hunters will not only be outmatched by Riddick himself, we are going to get a repeat of the first film where the monsters come out at night and Riddick is their only hope.
There is not much need for character development. Hairstyles and clothing manage to tell us all we need to know about the bounty hunters. One group is cruel and probably as big a group of criminals as our hero himself. The second group is tough and more professional and they have a hidden agenda to go along with their story. Heads will butt, testosterone will flow freely and Riddick will kill enough of them to show he means business and then have the remainder to potentially save. There are a few clever tricks in Riddicks handling of the two crews. The guy has the biggest cojones in the universe and he does a good job trying to intimidate the others, although they frequently continue to underestimate him. When the CGI space creatures show up, the movie slips into auto pilot and gives us random shoot outs, sudden deaths and lots of screaming critters in the dark. The creatures are not scary the way I remember similar creatures being in “Pitch Black” but they will do for an adversary that brings competing forces together. The last section of the film feels a little rushed and incomplete which is odd because so much time was taken in the first hour to set things up.
If I was thirteen or fourteen, and seeing this stuff for the first time, I’d be excited as heck about it. This is juicy Sci Fi action and a tough guy character that every adolescent boy would probably want to emulate. Somewhere inside of me, that kid still survives. He got a kick out of the cheesy space motorcycles in the film. He liked the vicious payoff of the main antagonist in the story. He is also a sucker for a good dog and even if this one was a virtual pet, it was still something to enjoy. The older version of that kid thought the movie was fine for a Sunday afternoon and I will probably not remember any of it in a couple of months. That will make it better when someone down the road suggests a “Riddick” marathon on a rainy weekend. It will be like new for me, and then I can repeat all of these jokes.