Thursday, September 5, 2013
I was expecting "Riddick" to be just awful, so anything north of terrible would probably have registered as pretty good. The third in the line of sci-fi/action movies that made Vin Diesel a star is a murky, disjointed mess. But it also boasts some cool action scenes, gruesome beasties and Riddick in full-on badassery mode.
Riddick, who was an able but fallible combatant in "Pitch Black" and "The Chronicles of Riddick," seemingly has taken on supernatural powers in this new movie, laying waste to an army of creatures and a gaggle of mercenaries come for the price on his head. Notably, he does this all bare-handed or with crude weapons he's fashioned himself -- including some kind of wicked bone sword that looks like something Conan would have hefted.
The allusion to the Cimerian barbarian is apt, since director David Twohy has opted for a downscale, pulp-fiction return to roots after the epic sprawl of "Chronicles." Instead of empires and entire planets being at stake, this is the simple tale of Riddick being stranded on a harsh desert planet and having to fight through a mountain of obstacles to escape.
It's a throwback to old-fashioned science fiction of the 1950s and earlier, more concerned with individual stories than macro events.
When last we saw him, Riddick had defeated the Lord Marshall of the Necromongers and, following their militant traditions, seen himself installed as their leader. But by his own reckoning Riddick had gotten lazy and lost a step, so he didn't see it when a plot to overthrow them developed. Teased by the prospect of locating his long-lost home planet of Furya, he gets bushwacked and left for dead.
Armed with nothing more than his infrared vision and a few tricks, Riddick has to find a way to survive the cruel environs, which include little to eat or drink and slavering hyena-like dogs. Worse yet is the things hiding in the bubbling cesspools, which resemble a cross between a scorpion, spider and amphibian.
I quite enjoyed this early sequence, wordless except for a little of Riddick's narration, which had a man-against-nature vibe that favorably recalled "Castaway."
Eventually he makes it to a lonely outpost, a way station for mercenaries. Riddick triggers a beacon to let everyone know where he is, and soon two groups of bounty hunters have descended to catch him. This sets up the chase-chase sequence, in which the mercenaries square off while fighting over who will get to claim Riddick's head. -- literally, just his head, since the county is doubled if he's dead.
Leading one crew is Santana (Jordi Mollà), a loathsome, greasy type who favors a machete and a whole lot of sexually suggestive dialogue. His team includes Diaz (Dave Bautista), who looks big enough to give Riddick a run for his money, and Luna (Nolan Gerard Funk), a green kid with religious overtones.
More professional and disciplined is the crew led by Johns (Matt Nable), a name that may be familiar to fans of the series. Johns has other objectives in mind beyond mere bloodletting. His right-hand woman is Dahl (Katee Sackhoff), who likes to mix it up: "I don't f*ck guys, but I f*ck them up when I have to."
There's an ugly, hyper-masculine undercurrent to the proceedings, as every male character attempts to out-strut the other ones, with Riddick at the top of the cock-heap. At one point he makes some icky comments about Dahl's toenails and nipples, and I squirmed uncomfortably in my seat.
The gore quotient is pretty high for this type of movie, and one nasty character gets his comeuppance in a particularly memorable slice-and-dice way. During one scene Riddick slides under one of those scorpion things, slicing its belly and causing its entrails to drop out. Distracted, the critter proceeds to eat its own guts. Nasty.
No one will confuse "Riddick" for quality filmmaking. But it's got a grungy, sweaty vibe that wasn't entirely unpleasing. I didn't like it, but I didn't hate it, and that's way more than I ever would have guessed.