‘Riddick’ literally and symbolically resurrects a character presumed dead

Vin Diesel hangs with his cartoon dog friend in the threequel "Riddick." Credit: Universal Pictures
Vin Diesel hangs with his cartoon dog friend in the threequel “Riddick.”
Credit: Universal Pictures

‘Riddick’
Director: David Twohy
Stars: Vin Diesel, Katee Sackhoff
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

The first thing we see of Vin Diesel’s titular character in “Riddick” — whose full name, it must be stated, is Richard B. Riddick — is his forearm sticking out of a pile of rocks. This is the rubble left in the wake of “The Chronicles of Riddick,” a bloated mega-sequel that attempted to take a break-out character in a surprise B-movie hit (2000’s “Pitch Black”) and fit him with a “Star Wars”-dense mythology. It didn’t take, hence our lead symbolically and actually resurrecting himself — not before strangling a pesky bird that presumably symbolizes those who’d see him (and his career) defeated.

The lesson is: know who you are. In the case of Riddick (and to an extent, Diesel), he’s a growling anti-hero with funky eyes who needs to be in low-rent programmers, not tentpole franchises. The relatively cheap (and sometimes relatively cheap-looking), Judi Dench-less threequel treats its predecessor to a quickie flashback (presumably because still no one has seen it), then abandons it. The first act is a survivalist tale, with Riddick stranded alone on an arid planet that’s red in tooth and claw. Wounded, he befriends a dog but beats down slimy, hungry beasties, one who gobbles up its freshly disemboweled intestines.

This long sequence is thrillingly wordless, save some Riddick narration. It’s not clear who he’s talking to, given that he hates everyone, presumably his ticket-buying viewers, too. He definitely hates two groups who, hipped to his presence, travel to the planet for different needs: one wants information; the other wants his head in a box.

It takes a long time for “Riddick” to figure out what story it wants to tell. Riddick himself almost entirely leaves the picture for a good half-hour, treated as a ghost toying with his pursuers — all men with one woman, played by “Battlestar Galactica”’s Katee Sackhoff. (Ignore the feminist angle of a tough, open lesbian among the dudes: Her name, Dahl, makes it sounds like everyone’s calling her “doll,” and her sexuality aside, she’ll gladly straddle our star, even after he makes a rape joke.)

The snakiness of the narrative is both perversely exciting and frustrating, especially since it doesn’t appear to be about anything but Riddick trying to find someone he doesn’t want to gorily dispatch. Series director David Twohy was last seen with the nifty “The Perfect Getaway,” which turned on a major and shockingly robust twist. Here the twist is that it’s all been leading up to a not-bad retread of “Pitch Black”’s monster onslaught. It’s not clear where else to take the character. He’s an old fashioned taciturn loner, but his hatred of everyone is monotonous, especially since Twohy pairs him with supporting players/monster chow where even the good ones have questionable allegiances. Then again, the worst ones have bizarrely colorful dialogue. When one says something about “unicorn asses,” most is forgiven.


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