Riddick, aka The Sequel Nobody Wanted, gets off to a surprisingly strong start. The eponymous anti-hero (Vin Diesel), an intergalactic outlaw with the ability to see in the dark, is stranded on a desert planet with no weapons or supplies, seriously wounded and relentlessly hunted by carnivorous aliens. There are scary dog-like predators that look like a cross between dingos, hyenas and zebras.
There are fearsome scorpion-like monsters that lure their prey with canny intelligence. There are other creatures circling high overhead, but Riddick can’t fly, so those aren’t as much of a problem. Relying primarily on visuals, with a spackling of voiceover narration to help ease viewers into the movie, writer-director David Twohy creates a survival drama that constantly raises the stakes on Riddick, then finds a plausible way to extricate him from each cliff-hanger.
But there are early signs of trouble, too. A flashback explaining how Riddick wound up on this inhospitable rock does away with the entirety of The Chronicles of Riddick in two minutes (and makes suckers out of anyone who paid to see that film). When Riddick traps a dingo-thing pup and tames it, the animal, which has the wide eyes of a Walt Disney character, becomes such a precocious and playful creature that I kept waiting for Riddick to name it Marley.(Riddick also manages to somehow teach the beast English, since he can say “Bring me my reserves,” and the adorable hyena-thing understands exactly what he means).
Then the plot kicks in, and Riddick starts to fall apart. Two packs of bounty hunters come looking for Riddick, who is wanted across the galaxy, preferably dead. The killers are all B-movie stock types. There is the calm, authoritative one (Matt Nable), who doesn’t want to kill Riddick, only to speak to him about something. There is the Hispanic hothead (Jordi Molla), who is prone to constant hissy fits and speaks with such a thick Spanish accent that you wish his scenes had subtitles. There is the attractive, butch lesbian (Battlestar Galactica’s Katee Sackhoff), who is just as tough as any of the guys and also likes to take showers. There is the black one (Bokeem Woodbine), who serves no discernible purpose other than to prove African-Americans exist in the future, too. There is the religious one (Nolan Gerard Funk), who is constantly breaking out into prayer when he should be wielding a gun instead.
Diesel disappears from the movie for a dangerously long stretch while his would-be hunters bicker and argue and trade insults, adding nothing to the film’s ridiculously bloated running time (two hours) except irritation. Unlike good science fiction, Riddick doesn’t have a single intriguing idea or concept. The movie, which sports loads of cheesy-looking CGI effects, simply co-opts the genre for tiresome formulas (who will survive?) that aren’t all that different from the Friday the 13th pictures. Eventually, Diesel re-enters the fray, and Riddick becomes a shameless rip-off of Aliens, as well as a preposterous cartoon that makes The Amazing Spider-Man seem like an Errol Morris documentary.
Twohy pulls off an effective set piece now and then (there’s a terrific scene involving the opening of a lock that may or may not be booby-trapped) and there are some undeniably powerful images, too. But the entire movie bears the whiff of a vanity project — a modestly budgeted bone Universal Pictures threw at Diesel so he would keep starring in Fast and Furious pictures. Those movies are bank; Riddick is rank.
Cast: Vin Diesel, Jordi Molla, Matt Nable, Katee Sackhoff, Bokeem Woodbine, Nolan Gerard Funk, Karl Urban.
Director: David Twohy.
Screenwriters: Oliver Butcher, Stephen Cornwell.
Producers: Vin Diesel, Ted Field, Samantha Vincent.
A Universal Pictures release. Running time: 119 minutes. Vulgar language, graphic violence, gore, brief nudity, adult themes. Opens Friday Sept. 6 at area theaters.