Sci-Fi Flick ‘Riddick’ Runs On Empty With Diesel’s Flat Performance
Published: Sunday, September 8, 2013
Updated: Sunday, September 8, 2013 20:09
The main thing that sets Captain Richard B. Riddick apart from his other human counterparts is his eyes, which glow like twin moons in the barren sky of the dusty, canary-colored planet he is stranded on. Another thing that sets the titular character apart is that unlike in the other movies in this science fiction trilogy (2000’s Pitch Black and 2004’s The Chronicles of Riddick), where he had a crew or a companion to help him escape his treacherous situations, three-time writer/director David Twohy leaves his hero, (Vin Diesel, reprising his role from the two previous films) all alone on a mysterious planet. This is Twhoy’s first mistake.
Staring at the nameless planet for more than an hour and a half would be a difficult task for anyone. While it was probably not intended to be pretty or beautiful, as it is the place the protagonist is left for dead, it looks so computer-generated that it might as well be your MacBook’s desktop picture. And as a result, it is hard to get lost in the land. Unlike James Cameron’s Pandora, the landscape is not varied, nor does it even look treacherous.
That is, until Riddick meets some of the planet’s most furious predators, which include a dog-like creature and what appears to be something resembling a scorpion crossed with an anaconda. These creatures provide some of the best and most realistic action sequences in the movie, as Diesel is forced to outsmart them using ingenious tactics that exhaust the limited interesting crevasses of the unimaginative landscape. These creatures, the dog-like one in particular, also draw out some of Diesel’s best acting in the movie. He and the canine form a bond on a plant that is alienating, which can only be described as humanizing. While this relationship with the computer-generated animal brings out the best in Diesel, it is also where the movie begins to lag, as he is forced to carry the movie alone.
The movie picks up, however, when Santana (a solid Jodi Molia of Blow) and his crew (which includes Conrad Pla and former professional wrestler Dave Bautista), come to collect Riddick’s head in a box. His plans are disrupted when a second crew, Johns (Matt Noble) and a kiss-ass girl named Dahl (a stellar Katee Sckhoff) come to give him the back-up that he never asked for. This second act of the film is bolstered by the two crews who seem more concerned with how to beat each other than how to obtain their target. They make this second part of the film a very fun ride, as moviegoers get to see not only explosions typical to these types of movies, but also hand-to-hand combat and wars of words.
It may seem like these two parts are from completely different movies. At times it does, as Riddick is absent or a shadow in the night for the most part. However, this actually improves his character. Instead of the audience knowing everything that is in his head, as in the first part, he becomes a mystery to them. They are left wondering how he completed his kills, got into a locked space, or knew certain information. As a character, Riddick is better left a mystery than a flesh and blood man.
At times Riddick overstays its welcome at just less than two hours, as the third act of the movie turns into a melodramatic family drama that could only appeal to the most die-hard fan of the series. While Riddick may be better than most expected, the one problem with the film is its star. Diesel is an actor of limited range. In the beginning of the film, his monotone voice narrates the thoughts in Riddick’s head without any real change in emotion. Similarly, when he is cocky, he is not cocky enough. When he is sad, he is not sad enough. He does a mediocre job at best. It is because of him that sometimes the movie succeeds when things are implied and not seen—when the audience is left like small children to gaze into the moons that are his eyes and wonder.