Vin Diesel is the Sly Stallone of the 21st century. He is a persona, not an actual actor. If his gruff and growling image fits your film franchise, you might have a hit. Stallone had Rocky and Rambo. Vin has The Fast & The Furious. But, more often than not, you wind up with a mediocre film like Cobra, or in the case of Vin Diesel, Riddick.
In the opening scenes, we find Riddick living on a burned-out, desert planet, scrounging for food and avoiding the lethal, indigenous animal species bent on killing him. For thirty minutes, he alternates battling with slimy monsters and frolicking with his newly-found space dog. The only “dialogue” is a silly voiceover that offers original tidbits like: “There are bad days, and then there are legendary bad days.” It’s akin to an audio book for a really bad private eye novel. I was waiting for him to say, “And that’s when trouble came walking into my office, and her name was Lola.”’
At about the 35-minute mark, we put additional humans on the screen with Riddick, but it doesn’t really help any. A group of bounty hunters arrive bent on putting the outlaw’s head in a box and collecting a large reward. The group is led by the same Euro-trash villain types that have populated every action thriller since Die Hard was a hit. Needless to say, mayhem ensues. Even the presence of fanboy favorite Katee Sackhoff doesn’t help. She makes sarcastic retorts to endless misogynistic comments and mostly serves to remind you that you would much rather be watching her in a Battlestar Galactica rerun while you relax in your favorite recliner.
Even if a science fiction film has a mediocre storyline, you can usually lose yourself in the special effects and the spectacle of it all. Not so with Riddick. Its “stripped down” production values look like a cross between the motion picture Dune and Star Trek, the television series. I thought I had returned to the good old days of matte paintings and Styrofoam sound stages. At one point, I expected a few guys in red uniforms to show up and be killed by Riddick or the bounty hunters just to stay in keeping with sci-fi tradition.
I tend to judge a film based on what it is trying to be. Nothing irritates me more than a critic treating You’re Next like it aspires to being Schindler’s List. I don’t care if it plumbs the depths of the human experience. Is it a good horror movie/thriller? As I write this review, I still don’t know what Riddick is trying to be. It’s a science fiction western that morphs into a slasher film and then returns to being the creature feature that it begins as. It openly steals from everything from Conan the Barbarian to High Noon and finds no original uses for those sources of inspiration.
I’ve written before about the Tough Sci-Fi Summer of 2013, and Riddick does nothing to improve the situation. Pitch Black was a nice surprise when it was released in February 2000. The lower budget production values gave it an organic, gritty feel, and the character of Riddick was an interesting outlaw to carry a sci-fi thriller. The Chronicles of Riddick followed in 2004 and might be one of the worst science fiction movies of all time. This third, and hopefully final, installment falls somewhere in between, though it is much closer to the “awful” side of the grading curve.
In a media world with so many content choices and so little time to see everything that has merit, I can think of countless ways to spend two hours that would be better than sitting in a theater watching Riddick.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.