FILM REVIEW: RIDDICK

By Michael Phillips 2014-02-07

Tribune Newspapers Critic

3 stars

From the dusty annals of a science-fiction franchise belonging to another age, that of "Pitch Black" (2000) and "The Chronicles of Riddick" (2004) and several video game variations, here's a modestly scaled summer picture continuing the legend that time and many moviegoers forgot. And it's fun! Extremely violent, cleverly managed fun, full of eviscerating aliens, Vin Diesel making those little swimmer goggles look sharp and Katee Sackhoff of "Battlestar Galactica" swaggering around as a sexually ambiguous bounty hunter stuck with a bunch of guys on a crummy planet, ruled (more or less) by the escaped prisoner Riddick, whose story is recapped in "Riddick" but there's not much to it, don't worry.

This is not one of those Johnny-come-lately sequels preoccupied with getting a new audience up to speed on where the story was. It's about living in the moment, in the now, and killing in the now.

The character name Riddick has a twee, sprightly air, two adjectives which do not bring Vin Diesel to mind. But he's the one taking care of his adversaries in a plot line recalling Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None," except here it's: "And Then There Was Vin."

And here's the beauty part, to the extent writer-director David Twohy's simple, compact movie can be called beautiful: The bounty hunters are all individuals, and you actually care about some of them, so it's not simply a "Saw"-type grinder of a movie, wherein we wonder how the next side of beef is going to get sliced. I mean, we do wonder that, but there are other things going on.

"Riddick" opens with a near-wordless sequence set on a hot, scrubby planet, where our antihero, betrayed by the Necromongers -- there, that's it: done with the plot summary -- is left for dead among the winged beasts and slithering giant scorpion- and fanged squid-like denizens of the swamps. The opening half-hour of Twohy's picture is a grabber, a chronicle of Riddick dealing with the swamp things and his domestication of a dingo-type alien jackal dog. The occasional voice-over ("Whole damn planet wanted a piece of me") reminds us that Riddick can, in fact, speak if needed.

Then come the bounty hunters, some old, some new, and "Riddick" turns into a different picture, one that scrambles your sympathies nicely as Riddick squares off against the meanest of them while everyone contends with ace creature designer Patrick Tatopoulos' alien animal kingdom. The movie is worth seeing simply for the ace-of-spades-shaped ears on the hero's pet dingo.

The first half's more compelling than the second; the flying effects, with zippy hovercrafts, look cheeseball; and the whole of "Riddick" smacks of being filmed in GreenScreenLand, which it was. (And Montreal.) More persuasively than the recent "After Earth" and "Oblivion," "Riddick" makes an entertaining survival-guide virtue of its main character's isolation. The side characters all get their share of profane zingers. The audience came away sated. In the 13 years since the first Riddick chronicle, Diesel has discovered what it means to be a certain kind of movie star, working hard but not too, serving material that, here, does what it's supposed to do.

MPAA rating: R (for strong violence, language and some sexual content/nudity).

Running time: 1:59.

Cast: Vin Diesel (Riddick); Katee Sackhoff (Dahl); Bokeem Woodbine (Moss); Karl Urban (Vaako); Jordi Molla (Santana).

Credits: Directed by David Twohy; written by Twohy, Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell, based on characters by Jim and Ken Wheat; produced by Rhodri Thomas, Samantha Vincent, Simon Cornwell, Ted Field and Vin Diesel. A Universal Pictures release.

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