'Riddick': An ugly sci-fi actioner
By Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
"Riddick," the third and possibly not last installment in the sci-fi action franchise top-lined, as they say in the trades, by Vin Diesel, is also possibly not the worst genre blockbuster of this summer of ugly genre blockbusters. But if it isn't, this reviewer is past the point of wanting to know.
The movie opens with its title anti-hero, the unsavory stay-with-me-if-you-want-to-live force of "Pitch Black" and Conan-in-space figure of "The Chronicles of Riddick," stranded on some sort of desert planet. Being all Riddick-y and stuff, he strangles the first space vulture who tries to take a peck at him, outfoxes a bunch of space dingoes, then gets into an extended quarrel with a sea serpent variant of the H.R. Giger "Alien" design while domesticating a space dingo puppy. During these travails, much flesh is rent and sundered, and remarkable quantities of viscous fluid are spilled, splashed and otherwise distributed. Soon Riddick (who provides narration in a wisecrack-heavy but nonetheless entirely humorless brand of contemporary urban slang) and his space dingo puppy see something that tells them they've got to get off the planet. Riddick has no choice but to fire a planetary signal that will signal bounty hunters that his criminal hide is there for the taking. And since the first movie, the reward for his capture is double if he's dead.
But as the movie spares no pain in reiterating (with Mel Gibson still out of mainstream commission, Diesel has to be the cinema's most eager depicter of on-screen masochism), this is Riddick we're talking about here. Riddick, he of the glowing milk-white pupils and the seeing-of-only-purple without his cool goggles (I started calling the condition "Princevision"). Two teams of mercenaries descend to snag Riddick, and one is very slobby and rapey. The other is relatively thrifty, brave, clean and reverent and is led by the father of the character who was the outright villain in "Pitch Black," not that it matters too much. This fellow, Boss Johns (Matt Nable), has a female lieutenant, Dahl (Katee Sackhoff, late of the "Battlestar Galactica" series and hence a potential source of genre fan appeal), who is very tough and capable and whose announced lesbianism does not prevent her from becoming the subject of both rape jokes and actual rape attempts on the parts of various characters. Like the song says, it's lonely out in space. Super icky, too.
Both of these teams work at cross purposes until wily Riddick forces them to unite, the better to stalk them in a bunch. It's kind of like if "The Thing From Another World" had been told from the perspective of the James Arness character. Only not good. At one point, the lugubrious Diesel strides out of a dust storm, early Eastwood-style, to confront his would-be capturers. "I don't believe it," one of his nemeses says. "The balls on this [expletive deleted] guy," says another. Indeed. When it's not about hacking away at skin and sinew and being grime-encrusted and rapey and showing just how drippy today's special effects artists can make CGI creatures look, "Riddick" is about the big balls not just of its lead character but of the man who portrays him, who's also a co-producer on the franchise. The eager masochism and the near-lunatic self-aggrandizement are part of the selfsame very weird ball of congealed Diesel oil, and they make this movie, which could have been an energetic albeit routine sci-fi actioner under only slightly different circumstances, into something that much more ponderous and tedious.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.