Twohy, Diesel Misfire With Third "Riddick" Film

David Twohy’s “Riddick” is a film marooned between its two predecessors, trying like hell to entertain, but without enough good ideas to justify its existence – let alone its overlong running time. The peppy survival horror of “Pitch Black” is well represented here, but so is the overwrought, CGI-heavy action of “Chronicles Of Riddick,” and it’s an uneasy blend that never settles.

Worse yet, the supporting cast around Vin Diesel fails miserably in delivering Twohy’s less-than-elegant dialogue. Some of the pic’s cheese factor is undoubtedly intentional, but it’s heaped on so heavily that it more often draws groans than laughs. In fact, “Riddick” makes it clearer than ever that Twohy has become a blunt force filmmaker, entirely uninterested in the kind of narrative shading that made “Pitch Black” so interesting.

Diesel as Riddick in “Pitch Black” was the ultimate antihero, a brutish, mysterious thug that was nudged and eventually thrown in the direction of do-goodism. It was a compelling arc that made the character instantly iconic, but it worked because he wasn’t always the focal point of the film. Since the character’s last outing, it’s been all Riddick all the time, and as charismatic as Vin Diesel can be, he lacks the chops to be an archetypal leading man.

Twohy realizes this, attempting to write the character as “getting back to his animal side,” but it doesn’t work because Twohy’s already gone all-in on his star. Vin Diesel is the franchise, and the element of surprise that “Pitch Black” had is long gone. Our familiarity with Riddick is a problem that’s only exacerbated here. And when he’s given something particularly nasty to say or do, it comes off as disingenuous.

The first 30 minutes of the film are all Riddick, as he lives off the land of a strange planet to train his body and mind and reclaim his killer instinct. Without any story to drive the opening act, we’re left with an occasionally poignant series of scenes that removes what little mystery the character had left. When the title character sweetly bonds with a doglike CGI creature, it’s an image that’s hard to reconcile with his history of wantonness.

Once the screenplay finally moves on from being a one-man show, two dueling crews of bounty hunters show up and the film essentially becomes a “Predator” sequel.” Riddick toys with his hunters, constantly upping the ante in terms of violence – one kill in particular is astoundingly graphic – eventually teaming up with a few of them to fight off some bloodthirsty aliens. The movie’s special effects are plentiful, if not seamless, but significantly better than that of its predecessors.

The biggest strike against “Riddick” is its 2-hour running time, likely a result of the picture’s independent financing. Universal is only distributing, meaning that they had no creative control over the project – and that Twohy and Diesel likely had final cut. Filmmakers are often too attached to their own work, and I’m guessing Twohy lacked the perspective to realize that the film could have lost at least 20 minutes and been better for it.

There are strong elements here – and Diesel gets to flex his acting muscles more as Riddick than he ever has as Dom Toretto in the “Fast And Furious” series – but none of it ever comes together in any meaningful way. B-level sci-fi doesn’t have to be this tedious or banal, so it shouldn’t get a pass simply because it’s a genre pic. Low expectations can go a long way in curbing disappointment, but it’s a mindset that rarely yields long-term positive results. Nevertheless, “Riddick” is just good enough that most viewers will be able to write it off as a serviceable matinee, and if that’s all you want from the experience, you could do a lot worse.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Mediocre)

Release Date: September 6, 2013
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director: David Twohy
Screenwriter: David Twohy
Starring: Vin Diesel, Karl Urban, Jordi Molla, Matt Nable, Katee Sackhoff, Bokeem Woodbine, Dave Bautista, Conrad Pla, Raoul Trujillo, Nolan Funk, Keri Hilson
MPAA Rating: R (for strong violence, language and some sexual content/nudity)