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Riddick

Screen Shot 2013-09-11 at 12.11.50 PMDirected by David Twohy
Starring Vin Diesel, Katee Sackhoff, Matt Nable, Jordi Molla, Dave Bautista, Raoul Trujillo, Bokeem Woodbine

The existence of this, the third film (fourth if you count the animated short, Dark Fury) in the Riddick franchise, is a testament to blind faith and willpower. It’s a passion project for producer and star Vin Diesel, who reportedly put his house on the line to finance the movie. That he managed to pull it off is heartening; that it was to so little effect, less so.

Functioning more as a direct sequel/rehash of the sleeper hit Pitch Black (the self-indulgent excesses of 2004’s The Chronicles Of Riddick are quickly and efficiently dispensed with), the film sees Diesel’s eponymous space-criminal stranded on a hostile desert planet, contending with not only the ferocious local wildlife, but also two teams of mercenaries bent on taking him in – one led by the venal Santana (Jordi Molla), the other by the phlegmatic Boss Johns (Australian actor Matt Nable). It’s rather neatly divided into three acts, each encapsulating an archetypal struggle: Act One is Riddick vs. his environment, Act Two is Riddick vs. man, while Act Three is Riddick vs. his environment and man (Riddick never confronts himself; he’s at peace with his inner Riddickness).

That sounds like a pretty simple recipe for some fun violence and macho posturing, but the actual result is sluggish and tiresome. The film’s remarkably low budget is always in evidence, but that’s not the problem; rather, it’s the terrible, leaden dialogue and contradictory characterisations that, coupled with the worryingly self-serious tone of the piece, means we’re laughing at the film rather than with it.

There are some small setpieces that work well – Riddick’s promised decapitation of an enemy, when it finally pays off,  is applause-worthy, and his interplay with a kind of alien hunting dog that he adopts is fun – but these are few and far between. The film works best when it embraces its pulpy roots. Strip all the set-dressing away, and Riddick is basically Conan In Space, and there are fleeting moments – a bored Riddick astride a throne, or fighting off an army of assailants on a storm-wracked mountain peak – that just sing. The problem is that we have to wade through a lot of risible character interaction to get there. Geek favourite Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica) is given little to do other than pose and punch, but she fares better than Karl Urban, who crops up for one fleeting scene – indeed, his appearance feels like a favour for a friend.

It’s a shame. Riddick seems to be such an easy character to get right that it’s downright maddening to see him squandered, and Diesel seems like a nice guy to boot – seeing him have a win gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling. Unfortunately, despite the fact that Riddick has crushed it at the US box office in its opening weekend, creatively it’s a dud. If and when we get another episode of his adventures, it’d have to be an order of magnitude better than this to incite any interest.

TRAVIS JOHNSON

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