By Muhammad Muzammal Special to the chronicle
Number of times I checked my phone during the Riddick? Five.
Overlong and erratic, David Twohy’s film, is a banal action film which contains several plot inconsistencies, horrible writing, and a protagonist who is too one dimensional. The film builds upon its two previous installments (the creative Pitch Black and the awful The Chronicles of Riddick) by featuring Richard B. Riddick, a loner in an empty desolate planet who has been betrayed by the Necromongers, a separate alien race that evicted Riddick from his throne. Riddick must save his dying home planet of Furya, while escaping from the hands of bounty hunters who want him dead and decapitated - all for a large bargain. The story is basic in its form, and there are a few shades of entertainment, but they are let down by boring and corny action scenes.
Riddick fuels the audience by testing our senses. Consider the opening sequence of the film, which is extremely reminiscent of a superior science fiction movie, Wall-E. Riddick has been living alone on a yellowish and dream-like planet for quite a while now, and he must adapt to the lonely environment around him. Twohy directs these scenes with a keen eye, keeping his camera focused on more thrills than kinetic or wall-to-wall action. He wants us to feel, rather than see.
When Riddick re-twists his broken ankle, while trying to run from a group of blood hungry space-hounds, the film has beauty in its tension and an irony in the action - a physically broken man who was once strong is now playing pray to animals. He must become his own fear in order to survive. And he does.
For nearly the first half hour, Riddick is simply Vin Diesel wordlessly striving to live. He battles a large scorpion-like creature that is ruthless in its look and violent in its approach to killing. By smartly training a young member of the aforementioned bloodhounds, Riddick is able to have a companion and an animal that compensates for his own ruffian-type personality. Both Riddick and his scary canine thrillingly extricate from the scorpion creatures, into a land of naturalistic splendor. As soon as Riddick finds a nearby ship though, everything goes directly downhill.
We are introduced to a group of cliched characters who are nothing more than action film caricatures that speak phrases rather than actual words and drop more f-bombs than is appropriate. These are the bounty hunters who are trying to obtain Riddick’s head.
They travel to to an abandoned outpost, on which Riddick scans himself. Riddick leaves a message on the site, indicating he has hunger rather than fear. He wants to kill the crew so that he can escape to Furya.
As the lame villains arrive, we meet our main antagonist, Santana (Jordi Molla), the captain of the bounty hunters, who curses and acts tougher than he should. Molla overacts the role, as someone who is cluelessly arrogant and flawed in his plans.
The film seems to head nowhere. The scenes are well timed but they don’t work, because of the lack of professionalism in the acting and writing. The worst performance of the film is by Katee Sackhoff, who plays Dahl, the only female crew member and apparently a lesbian who is confused about her sexuality. Dahl is masochistically attracted to the male personas around her, including the violent Riddick. She is treated unjustly and instead of containing strength, Dahl fails at trying to be even memorable.
If Vin Diesel, who allegedly spent every penny he had on the film, wanted to produce a serious work of science fiction, he would’ve at least looked at past sci-fi masterpieces to see that every character, or most characters, are handled with precision and care.
Riddick is filled with hokey one liners (“There are bad days, then there are legendary bad days, today is a legendary bad day”) and lacks a purpose that is strong enough to keep the attention of a viewer for the film’s two hour running time.
At two hours, Riddick drags and feels punishingly long and shallow. The film could’ve and should’ve been condensed into ninety swift minutes, with attention focused more on some multi layered characters. Instead, we see Riddick man handling the dumbfounded villains in dark and moody action scenes that are hard to view and simply put, hard to care about. Yet, with all its flaws, Riddick does present some hope for Hollywood blockbusters.
According to IMDB, Riddick’s budget was $38 million, a fraction of the budget for an average summer blockbuster. Hollywood has seen disappointing failures this past season, but if every box office bomb this year would’ve been financed on a $30-50 million budget, it would’ve been a mild success. The reason this plan sounds rational to me is because of Riddick’s visual effects - they are proof that spending buckets of money doesn’t always make a film an automatic cash grabber. As poorly executed as Riddick is, the profits will definitely exceed its budget and be a success for director David Twohy and his team.
Riddick will satisfy the weekend action movie audience, but it is everything a franchise film shouldn’t be - hectic, exhausting and sometimes, confusing.