A Film review of Riddick
By: Lawrence Napoli
Anyone familiar with the Riddick Trilogy could have easily seen the trailers for this most recent installment and said, “Hey, I think I’ve seen that before,” and they would be absolutely correct. It seems as if the formula for this excruciatingly rigid character can find no wiggle room outside of stories strictly about being hunted by mercs. What I find most distasteful is the fact that Riddick returns to his roots with an almost exact, bullet point for bullet point, plot recreation of Pitch Black. Of course, this isn’t much of a big deal for those showing up late to the Riddick party, and I can completely understand seeing how these films never seemed to reach an audience outside a cult following. The fans, on the other hand, will be somewhat disappointed because despite the charisma of the character, the story is completely recycled and appears to be going nowhere fast.
Riddick is a film that had no business being made in the first place seeing how Universal and Vin Diesel had abandoned the franchise after the abysmal performance of The Chronicles of Riddick back in 2004 when that film’s global take at the box office was only $10 million dollars more than its production budget of $105 million. According to the Riddick Wiki page, Diesel and filmmaker David Twohy secured the rights to produce a sequel that promised to return to the basics, which in turn got Universal interested in distributing it. In order to finance this production’s near $40 million dollar budget, Diesel leveraged his own house, and what followed was a series of financial setbacks that sandbagged the whole production. Despite these clear red flags, the production managed to pull through and land in the can, and I have much respect for all the crew, production staff and cast that made the film a reality. But an “A for effort” does not a film worthy of your hard-earned dollars make, especially when the story was supposedly going to bigger and more interesting places. “Due to private funding and a limited budget, the ‘Underverse’ plot could not be continued.”
Clearly, the real world of dollars and cents encroached heavily on this page of Hollywood history, but when big bucks, bigger names and the best effects cannot be relied upon to deliver the spectacle; writing is the only gun you have left in the cabinet. Unfortunately for Riddick, this tale is shooting blanks. I completely understand looking to a franchise’s original film for inspiration in troubled times during a follow-up, but carbon copying the basics of that story is inexcusable. If writer/director David Twohy was so starved for creativity thanks to his distracting production woes and multiple responsibilities, he should have considered shamelessly rebooting the Furyan all together, and why not? Reboots are in. As it stands, the story picks up all but immediately where we left Riddick as the Lord Marshall of the Necromongers, the most powerful force in the galaxy. So naturally, we spend 5 minutes of Riddick taking all of that away from him and stranding old shiny eyes on yet another god forbidden planet. Insert the plot of Pitch Black here (mercs show up, precise killing, creepy crawlies target everyone, an uneasy alliance occurs, retrieving a ship’s power source to escape), and that’s Riddick in a nutshell. I couldn’t tell if the revisited story was more annoying than the awkward cursing by everyone that seemed too forced to overemphasize everyone’s status as a bad ass or the ever bland one-liners by Riddick himself whose quotes easily devolve to vintage Stallone/Schwarzenegger. I understand that certain conventions are inevitable in sci-fi/action films, but that wasn’t what made this franchise (and this character) unique in the first place. Playing around with themes of light vs. dark both literally and contextually through character, rooting for the supposed bad guy and a shoestring budget yielding a big picture look are all things that made Pitch Black unique. There’s nothing unique about Riddick.
I will give the production staff a lot of credit for making this film at least look the part of a big time Hollywood production. Detailed creature CG is sporadic, but very functional in wider angles. Gunplay is standard issue, but not particularly intense. Landscapes are bright, but rudimentary. Costumes are necessarily minimal and vehicles are easily the most impressive in how they move amidst the backdrops they are framed within. I am absolutely certain that Vin Diesel’s home is safe, and an opening weekend just under $19 million is certainly a step in the right direction. However, if the true purpose of this production was to transform this franchise into a more cost effective carrot to dangle in front of studios for future film development, the audience needs more than a good looking movie to spread that word of mouth like wildfire. $40 million dollars can only get you so far, but higher stakes, rounder characters and a unique plot would’ve brought more butts to the theatres.
Riddick is not a film that contains what anyone would refer to as a marquee performance by anyone, but considering its production woes, getting “average” out of anyone could be considered a major victory. Gone is the charm from the likes of Keith David and Judi Dench, and as nice as it was to see Karl Urban again as Vaako, his cameo is merely five minutes of interesting (and far too brief) exposition that connects this film to the last. The cast is basically a collection of tough guys and gals that are physical, intimidating and as flat as your kitchen table. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself, but plenty of action films in the past have had similar requirements of their casts and a number of them proved capable of doing more with less, performance-wise. This is Vin Diesel’s baby, and as much as I appreciate his efforts as a labor of love, he’s still Dominic Toretto with glowing eyes. Jason Statham plays Jason Statham like Michael Cera plays Michael Cera and so too is the same with Diesel. He’s a tough guy without the most staccato of line deliveries. He gives you everything you could possibly expect of him in Riddick.
I actually enjoyed Pitch Black and much of that was thanks to Diesel’s performance as Riddick. He cares about his character and he cares about these stories, and that is something that you just don’t see with most Hollywood productions (especially the big-budget-effect ones). Unfortunately, Riddick is simply not good enough to recommend to anyone paying any price for a general admission. This is a Netflix/On Demand situation all day long, and for all the money and effort that went into making this film, I can’t help but think it could have been more if the filmmakers hadn’t simply gone to ground with the safest, plausible scenario they could think up to make this franchise profitable again. You’d think a smaller budget with less corporate ties and interfering influences would help foster more spontaneity and courage in regards to story and character, but this was not the case for this film. Oh conventionalism, you truly are a silent killer. The audience covets your familiarity, but your lasting impression involves the individual thinking about all the other things he or she could have been doing rather than subjecting themselves to something else they’ve probably seen many times before. My suggestion: Put your $10 towards GTA 5 which comes out in just over a week.