A film review by Craig J. Koban

THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK jjj

2004, PG-13, 118 mins.

Richard B. Riddick: Vin Diesel / Lord Marshal: Colm Feore / Kyra: Alexa Davalos
Vaako: Karl Urban / Dame Vaako: Thandie Newton / Aereon: Judi Dench
Toombs: Nick Chinlund / Tony Nesteravich: Chris Astoyan / Logan: Christina Cox

Directed by David Twohy /  Written by David Twohy, Jim Wheat and Ken Wheat

THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK is a bombastic, loud, crude, dense, slam-bam action filled exercise in the tradition of MAD MAX, CONAN THE BARBARIAN, and the Clint Eastwood ďMan With No Name" WesternsIt only seems inevitable to say that, with all due respect, it is not as good as those films. 

Yet, RIDDICK exists on a special level of goofy charm, silly one-liners, and stoic and emotionless characters that thrill readers of comic books and old pulp magazines.  Filled with wonderfully realized planets whose sunrises can burn you to a crisp, evil regimes named Necromongers that want to take over the universe, and anti-heroes that speak in Schwarzenegger-esque one-liners, RIDDICK is a film with no pretensions of what it is.  Itís a silly, whimsical, sometimes campy, and altogether thoroughly entertaining sci-fi action opus.  Itís sometimes nice to see a film that only hopes to thrill audiences with its vision and wild visuals, and provide a solid two hours of action mayhem. 

On those levels, it works.

RIDDICK is the sequel to the grossly underrated 2000 sci-fi film PITCH BLACK.  The first film was a clear knock-off of the ALIEN films, but director David Twohy invested an ingenious premise with minimalist special effects and tense direction.  It was also populated by well-rounded and interesting characters, most notably Riddick, a convict with a unique ability to see in the dark.  His abilities became useful in that film, as the aliens in it only made their presence felt at night.  RIDDICK was played by Vin Diesel in a stone cold, icy, and charismatic performance.  It was easy to hate and like Riddick, which is kind of his charm, I guess.

THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK takes place five years where the PITCH BLACK left off, and Diesel once again dons the role of the pesky anti-hero. The film opens with a bang with Riddick on the run from bounty hunters. After his tussle with a group of "mercs" he finds himself back with his old pal Inam (Keith David).  Inam has learned from the prophesy of the Air Elemental, Aereon (the underused and barely on screen Judi Dench), that Riddick may be the only one to stop the warmongering Necromongers (what a wonderfully goofy name!) and their near-invincible Lord Marshall (Colm Feore, whom you may remember as Pierre Elliot Trudeau in TRUDEAU).

Needless to say, the Necromongers are about to completely and utterly destroy Inamís planet when Riddick arrives just in time.  Problem is, Riddick does not do much of anything when he arrives!  In a strange and sudden turn of events, Riddick travels to a penal planet to locate Jack, the teenage girl he saved in PITCH BLACK.  To say that Jack has blossomed and has become hardened in the last five years is an understatement.  Jack now refers to herself as Kyra (Alexa Davalos) and has become such a cold and cynical  fighter that she would put Sarah Connor from TERMINATOR 2 to shame.  Gee, I wonder if the two of them will be able to escape the planet and go up against the evil Necromongers?  You see, with the Necromongers, they are a big fascist religious race that wishes to convert the entire universe, and those unwilling will die!   What else is an intergalactic criminal with night vision powers and the strength and speed of ten men gonna do for kicks?

PITCH BLACK was done on a fairly shoestring budget and was a well-crafted and tense exercise in suspense and action (oftentimes, you were scared by what you didnít see, which probably can be attributed to a lack of a budget to show us anything).  RIDDICK is the complete antithesis of PITCH BLACK.  With a budget nearly six times that of PITCH BLACK, Twohy pulls absolutely no punches at all in the visual department in RIDDICK. 

RIDDICK is not so much a film about tension and suspense as it is about action, special effects, and damn cool things to look at (if PITCH BLACK was trying to emulate ALIEN, then RIDDICK is most surly trying to be like STAR WARS).  Part of the joy of RIDDICK is sitting back a drinking in all of the wonderful visuals and set pieces.  I especially liked the appearance of the Necromongers, who look like a cross between intergalactic Roman soldiers and monks, whose vast armies span miles amidst their tall statues of terror.  I also liked the look of the penal planet, named the very tongue-in-cheek Crematoria.  When the sun rises on this planet, it can burn you to a crisp in seconds.  This, of course, sets up a great escape scene where Riddick and Kyra have to get off of the planet.  I am not altogether sure how hiding behind rocks allows you to avoid being fried to death, but never mind, it was a fun scene that avoids questions.

The real heart of RIDDICK is the title character himself.  Diesel brought a lot of subdued animalistic energy to his performance in PITCH BLACK, and it's here again in full abundance.  Diesel here shows that, when given the proper opportunities, he can really sink his teeth into a role and go for the jugular.  Riddick has about as much emotional range as Rambo, but he still makes an effective protagonist despite the fact that he really is  an antagonist as well.  I am always a bit surprised by the range of Diesel (he was great in a small part of a stock broker in BOILER ROOM, had a quiet tenderness as a soldier in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, was the gravel-voiced alien robot in THE IRON GIANT, and was tough and edgy in THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS).   Itís hard not to like Diesel here.

RIDDICK is not perfect by a long shot.  The filmís plot seems a bit overly convoluted at times, and this feels especially true with a tacked on sub-plot involving the wife of a scheming Necromonger Captain (played sparingly by Thandie Newton).  Also, the Necromongers are not given much screen time to be further developed and taken seriously as a threat.  The Lord Marshal is good in the scenes heís in, but they are, unfortunately, few and far between.  The great Judi Dench, who plays a spiritual character that can appear and disappear at will, seems redundant at best and I am still trying to figure out what her purpose truly was in the film (other to curb favour with more sophisticated viewers and prove, hey, we got an Oscar winning Brit in here!).  The whole middle section of the film involving the penal colony seems to be from another film and takes viewers away from the real antagonists of the film.

Nevertheless, THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK is a big, unapologetically simple-minded ride filled with terrific visual sights, an imaginative directorial eye, and a willingness to have fun.  RIDDICK is most certainly not as good as its tense and tight prequel, but it definitely serves the viewer up a plate full of good, big budget summer action and itís done with skill and affection for itís own inherent preposterousness.  In am not too sure whether there will be another RIDDICK film (the ending alone definitely opens up the possibilities for further adventures).  Yet, David Twohy is a great storyteller (THE ARRIVAL was one of the most under-appreciated sci-fi gems of the last five years) and I think that he has more RIDDICK stories to tell, and ones that go further.  THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK may not be a grand slam home run, but itís a fairly solid three base hit.

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