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By Chris Rebholz
Sep 06, 2013 08:24 AM EST

Riddick Theatrical Review

Riddick Theatrical Review
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"Somewhere along the way I lost a step… gotta find that animal side again."

Those words, croaked early in the film by Vin Diesel's titular antihero and bathed in metatextuality, sum up far more than the character's intentions. Riddick manages to salvage a franchise that faltered by adopting the strategy that A Good Day to Die Hard desperately required - a return to the primal basics of the original film in order to atone for its bloated and ill-conceived predecessor.

Gone is the overly lavish aesthetic and muddled plotting that blighted 2004's The Chronicles of Riddick. A pared down, 'cat and mouse' story set in one location is wisely adopted instead of pursuing some tedious mythology, harking back to the efficient sci-fi thriller Pitch Black, which first unleashed Richard B. Riddick to the masses in 2000.

Instantly recognizable with that bald dome and distinctive glowing eyes that allow him to see in the dark, Riddick is marooned on a remote and dangerous planet when we first encounter him. With only a loyal dog-like creature to keep him company, the escaped convict manages to transmit a message into space to announce his location, triggering responses from two competing teams who land on the planet intent on capturing or killing him.

One group of mercenaries, led by Jordi Mollà's repellent Santana, is intent on leaving with Riddick's head in a box, for the fugitive is worth twice as much dead as he is alive. However, the team led by Boss Johns (Matt Nable) has a much different agenda. However, before long, they soon start to fear they may need the help of their target in order to survive.

Riddick manages to flit effortlessly between moments of humor and menace, with Vin Diesel at his best in the role that propelled him to stardom. On occasion, it does feel like we're watching an action movie 'star' pull off heroics rather than observing a morally ambiguous character, which wasn't the case for Pitch Black. That's why the movie soars when the narrative perspective shifts from Riddick after the opening half hour and he becomes the antagonist lurking in the background and stalking his prey rather than the protagonist.

In his 'bad guy' persona, toying with the men out to apprehend or kill him (some of whom are sympathetic and honorable), Diesel is electrifying. The verbal sparring and power-plays are fun to watch unfold and brimming with tension, for we know that even if he's shackled and surrounded by weapon-toting opponents, he still holds all the cards.

Along the way there's a cameo from Karl Urban, hair spiked up and looking uncannily like Gozer from Ghostbusters, as he briefly reprises his role of Vaako from The Chronicles of Riddick. Not that anyone can (or wants to) remember what happened in that unsatisfying misfire, the events of which are fortunately glossed over.

Attempts to align one of the supporting character's motivations with the events of Pitch Black are only partially successful, as certain parts of the dialog effectively compel us to disengage us from the film we're watching in order to try to remember events from the original that don't really matter much anyway.

As Riddick's lone female supporting character Dahl, a member of Johns' group, Katee Sackhoff deserves much better material. Mesmerizing as Kara 'Starbuck' Thrace in the reimagined Battlestar Galactica, here she tackles a role in which she's endlessly defined by her sexuality and objectified not just by the horny misogynists surrounding her, but by the gaze of those behind the camera too.

While intended as an empowered character, demonstrated by many depictions of her beating up men, the cleavage-flashing costumes worn, the baring of a boob and the sexuality-driven dialog only serve to relegate her to the ranks of token stock totty in a testosterone-drenched environment. Riddick also suffers from a lack of clinical editing, with many action sequences overrunning and repetitive in nature. Consequently, the movie's stranglehold on your attention eases off on various occasions. Sometimes less is more.

Fortunately, there's enough to compensate for the failings, such as a firm contender for 'Best Cinematic Death of 2013'. It involves a foot, a sword and a transparent box. It's as incredulous as the infamous moment Fast & Furious 6 in which Vin Diesel defied the laws of physics to leap across the motorway to catch Michelle Rodriguez in mid-air and somehow land safely.

The creatures that inhabit the dangerous environment are well-designed and rendered. Many of the land-dwelling critters evoke the xenomorphs from the Alien franchise, which is unsurprising given that Pitch Black started life as writer-director David Twohy's script submission for Alien 3 at a time when Sigourney Weaver was refusing to reprise her role as Ripley.

Wisely reigning in its scope to establish and execute a minimalistic premise, Riddick puts Vin Diesel back to his infectious best, delivering enough visceral thrills, narrative tension and knowing chuckles to overcome occasionally languid pacing and a representation of women that belongs in an age so dark that not even Riddick can see it.
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MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 118 minutes
Distributed By: Universal Studios

For more information about Riddick visit the FlickDirect Movie Database.

About Chris Rebholz

FlickDirect, Chris  Rebholz

When Chris was but a wee lad growing up in the slums of suburban New Jersey, he happened to rent a little movie called Tron. Then his head exploded. It was at the moment that he realized that he loved movies, and since then Chris has made it a habit of renting movies, going to the movies, discussing his favorite movies, and anything else in between when it comes to that genre. Read more reviews and content by .

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