MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Riddick’ belongs in space prison

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First Posted: 9/9/2013

I don’t know if this makes any sense, so I’m just going to say it anyway: I’m not a fan of David Twohy, but I still believe he’s a decent writer/director. Films like “Pitch Black” and “A Perfect Getaway” have either left me cold or indifferent, but I can still recognize the fact that Twohy isn’t a hack. Even if you don’t like his films, you have to admit that his genre work frequently includes surprising and inventive elements. He’s a solid director; he’s just not for me.

And one of the few reasons why Twohy isn’t the director for me is the fact that he keeps casting Vin Diesel in movies. It’s 2013. We’re all a little older and wiser. Why haven’t we still outgrown Vin Diesel? What’s the fascination? He’s less charismatic than Steven Seagal, looks like a really buff Tim Conway, and sounds like Sylvester Stallone after a severely debilitating stroke. He’s a lumbering, mumbling pork mound: a half a dozen rump roasts uneasily encased within a basic black tank top. To paraphrase WFMU DJ Tom Scharpling, this is the kind of a guy who couldn’t get a job working in a gym. Why is he a movie star?

But, whatever the reason may be, Diesel is a movie star (at least for the time being) and we’re just going to have to accept the fact that, on occasion, Diesel will be required to appear on film and do things that are well beyond his capabilities, such as talking to people, pointing at objects, and moving about at a moderate pace. Fortunately, when Twohy cast Diesel in “Riddick,” he realized that Diesel is far less horrible when he’s moving very slowly and isn’t talking. So for the first 30 minutes of “Riddick,” there is barely any dialogue. It simply consists of wanted space criminal Richard Riddick (Diesel) crawling through a barren alien landscape, murdering otherworldly creatures, and befriending a zebra/dingo/dog-type creature. It’s slow-paced, but also oddly compelling. There’s something beautiful about an action movie that carefully takes its time.

But, unfortunately, “Riddick’s” quiet art house qualities are lost the moment Diesel realizes that the serpentine monsters from “Pitch Black” are gradually swarming the planet, and he attempts to escape by triggering an emergency beacon in an abandoned outpost. Two teams of rival bounty hunters arrive to drag the affable monster back to space prison (or a galaxy gulag – your choice, of course) but their general incompetence leaves them stranded and forced into an uneasy alliance with Riddick.

It’s at this point that whatever goodwill “Riddick” established over the past half-hour quickly disintegrates. The film, unbelievably, slows down even more to introduce a new slate of mostly interchangeable characters, and Diesel starts talking more. Sure, the change in direction introduces some great pitch-black comedic setpieces, consistently quotable dialogue (like, “Will you get off my freakin’ frequency?” and “Say something Bible-like over these bodies”), and entertaining performances from Katee Sackhoff and Bokeem Woodbine, but these elements are sparingly doled out over the course of the film’s second half. The movie drags when it should be picking up momentum.

“Riddick” transforms into something far more conventional, and even though it never exactly becomes a chore to watch, it isn’t all that enjoyable either. Like all of Twohy’s films, “Riddick” is just good enough to make you wish it was better.

Rating: W W V