Not many films that bomb as catastrophically as 2004′s The Chronicles of Riddick get a sequel, yet in agreeing to helm this third entry to the tune of a mere $38 million – that’s roughly one-third Chronicles’ budget – returning director David Twohy has initiated a minor coup as far as blockbuster filmmaking is concerned. An economic, back-to-basics approach is the order of the day, then, for Riddick, and though the pic sporadically entertains, it’s also painfully subject not to its lower budget, but simply a dearth of fresh ideas.
Riddick begins with one of the downright strangest first acts to any action film in recent memory, misguidedly going the minimalist route, as we encounter Riddick (Vin Diesel) having been double-crossed by the Necromongers and clinging to life on a remote planet. These early portions don’t much want for dialogue – though a laboured voiceover narration is occasionally shoved down our throats – and mostly consist of Riddick both traversing the planet and getting to grips with the local flora and fauna.
One segment, in which he befriends a dog-like creature native to the planet, is especially bizarre, adorned by a corny xylophone score that’ll make you think you’re watching a talking animal movie rather than a hardcore, R-rated sci-fi actioner. The salient point is that this oddly slow-going opening reel – complete with a flashback sequence, boasting a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it return by Karl Urban as Vaako – only pads the film out to 118 minutes, when the meat of the material would be much better suited to a lean 90.
Act two sees two separate outfits arriving to collect Riddick for themselves; a gang of mercenaries led by the vicious, crude Santana (Jordi Mollà), and a more robust, reasonable team led by Johns (Matt Nable), whose son William (Cole Hauser) was killed in the first film, Pitch Black.
As we watch these two sides squabble about who lays claim to Riddick, Diesel’s statuesque presence spends far too long off-screen, even if we do have the pleasantly larger-than-life personalities of merc Diaz (Dave Bautista, proving why he might be a great fit for Drax the Destroyer in Guardians of the Galaxy) and expert soldier Dahl (Katee Sackhoff) to help lighten the load.
It’s not until reel three, however, that Riddick really finds its footing, for though characters naturally miss countless chances to rid themselves of the titular rogue, there’s a level of tongue-in-cheek humour, hit and miss as it is, that’s far away from the morbid self-seriousness of Chronicles. The sly interplay between Diesel and Sackhoff accounts for most the film’s best moments, and Johns’ pursuit of the man who knows what happened to his son is a pleasant call-back for those who still remember the original.
Further on the complimentary side, the visual effects are strong considering the low budget, and while Twohy was surely hamstrung by his prior film’s PG-13 rating, here we’re treated to one particularly gnarly kill that’s sure to evoke strong reactions from audiences.
However, a more compelling final half-hour – which does, admittedly, lift rather lazily from the original film’s climax – can’t really compensate for Riddick’s myriad problems; it lacks forward momentum for most of its runtime, Mollà makes for a risible villain, there are too many cringe-inducing one-liners, the fight scene editing is frantic to the point of incoherence, and Diesel gives a curiously tired, phoned-in performance.
It’ll be easy for many to forgive these flaws because Riddick lacks the soulless, mechanised groan of the previous film, but even stripping away the excess, this disappointing jaunt has very little meat on its bones.
Riddick is in UK cinemas this Wednesday, and US cinemas this Friday.
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