Movie Review: Riddick

I remember seeing Pitch Black when I was a sophomore in high school. I had never heard of Vin Diesel before. In fact, I don’t even think I knew what the movie was about when I bought my ticket. But it was amazing, a sci-fi thriller, a prison transport ship goes down on an isolated planet overrun with alien monsters that rule the night.

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Diesel starred as Richard Riddick, a convict with special eyes that could see in the dark. His exploits gave way to a sequel, or a prequel, The Chronicles of Riddick, I’m not sure about the specifics, because I never saw the film. But Riddick’s at it again this time in Riddick, which, without ever having seen part two, it feels like almost a direct sequel to Pitch Black.

There’s no f’n around. Right from the beginning we find what appears to be a corpse’s wrist sticking out of the ground. Diesel’s monotone voiceover explains that, “This isn’t the first time I’ve been counted out,” as the hand springs to life, strangling an alien vulture that got a little too bitey with Riddick’s fingers.

And that choke scene, as the lizard/bird thing squirmed and died in Riddick’s blood-caked hand, it was obvious that whoever financed this picture didn’t really care about springing for the premium package with the CGI studio. It’s kind of a thing throughout the film. For a movie that relies so heavily on computer generated effects, I’m surprised that the quality was so shoddy.

It’s a superficial complaint, but it’s the backdrop for most of the movie. At one point Riddick and some other guy are on space motorcycles riding through the desert, and I barely had to use any imagination to picture the green screen taking up a majority of the shot.

But I’m getting way ahead of myself. For a while, it’s just Riddick. He’s in bad shape, first unburying himself, then setting his own broken bones. There’s a pack of wild space dogs looking to turn him into a quick lunch, but not only does he successfully fight them off, he then adopts one of their pups and raises it to be his trusty sidekick.

After setting off a beacon at a mercenary supply station, he attracts the attention of two rival space gangs, each looking to cash in on the outstanding reward for Riddick’s head. These dopes are no match for Riddick, but as our protagonist lets everyone know, “It ain’t me you’ve got to worry about.”

No, just like in Pitch Black, this planet has its own alien monsters that only attack during specific conditions, in this case, rain. And guess what? There’s a storm coming. And that’s basically where we get left off at the end of the trailer. It’s a race to get off the planet.

For all of its cheesiness, its lame special effects and two-dimensional plot, I really enjoyed Riddick. The pacing of the action was pretty smooth, and they kept the story simple. They could have riddled the secondary characters with pointless subplots and bad dialogue, but for the most part, everything was strictly business.

I like movies like this, these epic space operas, because there really aren’t too many out there. There were occasional allusions to what must have gone down in the second movie, something about an intergalactic empire, betrayal, some villain with scars on his face whose presence was never explained at all. But that’s what made everything compelling, those little tastes that reminded me that this layover on a hostile planet was but a minor stop along an interstellar epic. This is the type of actual sci-fi that Stephen Colbert pokes fun at with his Tek Jansen cartoons.

I’ve got to say, I always underestimate Vin Diesel. Every time I go to see one of his movies, I walk in the theater expecting to be disappointed. But the Fast and Furious franchise, XXX, and now Riddick, I’m impressed. There’s an unpretentiousness about his acting and his movies. He knows what he’s supposed to give and he delivers.

Riddick will probably be on the SyFy channel in a couple of weeks, so I guess there’s no rush. Still, I really enjoyed it, I loved watching it on a big screen. I hope they keep making Riddick movies, forever, cruising through space, getting stranded on planets, battling mercenaries and leading empires. It’s all so f’n cool.

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