September 12, 2013

'Riddick' delivers on promises


---- — The big-budget flop “The Chronicles of Riddick” seemed to have put an end to what filmmakers had hoped would be a Vin Diesel franchise back in 2004.

The stripped-down “Riddick” — it lost several words in the title, and about $75 million in budget — however, reveals that the burly anti-hero may still have a pulse. Barely.

“Riddick” goes back to some of what made the franchise starter “Pitch Black” a success, with a smaller cast, less space and a very similar plot.

With only the tiniest acknowledgment of “Chronicles,” the new movie plops Diesel, the universe’s most-wanted felon, on a desolate planet.

He’s buried and broken, and surrounded by odd, dangerous creatures on all sides, but Riddick always finds a way to survive. The first third of the movie is basically man against environment, with Riddick showing a soft spot for puppies, but killing everything else in his way.

Diesel, though, isn’t exactly Tom Hanks in the acting department, so sooner or later he’s going to need some other humans to interact with. These come in the form of not one, but two ships full of bounty hunters.

One crew is commanded by the off-kilter Santana, played by Jordi Molla (“Colombiana”). He wants Riddick’s head in a box and the cash that goes with it.

The other crew is militarily precise and has other motives, captained by Matt Nable’s (“Killer Elite”) Johns, father of Riddick’s “Pitch Black” nemesis.

Unfortunately for all the mercenaries, a storm is coming, and where the “Pitch Black” creepy crawlies thrived in the dark, on this new planet the really bad creatures come in the rain. Without Riddick’s help, will anyone survive?

Diesel growls his lines in familiar fashion and holds up his end of the action. Molla is too far over the top, channeling a young, crazed Andy Garcia, but Nable is excellent as the efficient but intense Johns, who may or may not be a bad guy.

Katee Sackhoff (“Battlestar Galactica”) is also very good as Johns’ deadly, no-nonsense second in command.

“Riddick” doesn’t build the dread like “Pitch Black” did, and the special effects are generally cheesy (particularly those flying motorcycles).

Still, the film delivers what it promises. It’s a sci-fi action movie without a higher purpose; no dystopian vision of the future or meaningful allegories here.

It’s not worth rushing down to the theater, but it’s not a terrible way to waste some time either.

Rental Recommendation: The original “Pitch Black” was a surprising low-budget success. Grade: B.

Email Steve Ouellette:

Riddick Grade: B- Starring: Vin Diesel, Katee Sackhoff, Matt Nable Rated: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violent action and some language) Running time: 119 minutes