Friday, Sept. 6, 2013

Riddickulous Sci-Fi Sequel

Vin Diesel doesn’t recapture the magic

By David Luhrssen
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  Relying on the power of dark shadows and darker suggestions, the 2000 film Pitch Black was one of the scariest science fictions in memory. It also introduced our planet to Vin Diesel, who emanated palpable menace as the brooding, shaven-headed criminal called Riddick. It was the best role he would ever play. Diesel and director David Twohy returned to the story in 2004 with The Chronicles of Riddick, a bloated Hollywood failure in complete contrast to the bare-boned, indie sensibility of its predecessor. Nine years later, they’re back, hoping to recapture the original magic, with Riddick.

 Sadly, for the first third of the movie, Diesel plays his anti-hero (think Telly Savalas on steroids) like a one-dimensional figure trapped inside an especially repetitious video game. He battles one monster after another, whether snarling humanoids, ravenous vulpine predators or slimy post-Alien creatures on a world where he is left to die under circumstances best understood by anyone who recalls Chronicles and cares about the arc of the plotline. Riddick makes the mistake of showing too much in the brightly colorized light of a computer-generated desert planet, leaving nothing to the imagination.

 The story finally starts to build when two rival gangs of mercenaries land on this desolate world to collect a bounty on Riddick’s head. One gang resembles Team USA, complete with Marine Corps efficiency, a token African American and a lesbian trooper who kicks butt. The other gang, apparently from a planet settled by Latin Americans, fulfills every bad ethnic stereotype: incompetent and hot headed, cruel and chauvinist, they exist mainly to be picked off by Riddick, who turns the hunters into the fame.

 Diesel grimaces and leers, but his acting against blue screens has all the chemistry of an empty test tube. During Riddick’s first third, the narration is carried by hardboiled voiceovers. “There are bad days and there are legendary bad days—this whole planet wants a piece of me,” he says, like Elmore Leonard on Mars. Riddick’s story wraps back around to Pitch Black, but with none of the eye-opening originality. It’s a tale best told on Pitch Black’s low budget, without Riddick’s expensive but unimpressive CGI and starring an actor who had yet to turn himself into a caricature.

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