“Riddick” Goes Back to Basics with Middling Results

Richard B. Riddick is the best character Vin Diesel will probably ever play. The murderous convict who can see in the dark plays to all of the actor’s strengths, making the man a quiet, brooding, calculating badass. After “The Chronicles of Riddick” destroyed the franchise, Diesel went through a lot to get the rights to the character in his hands, and those efforts have finally come to fruition with “Riddick,” the third film featuring the best anti-hero since Snake Plissken.

Taking a page from “Pitch Black,” the film that introduced Riddick to the world, “Riddick” finds the title character stranded on a desolate planet full of monsters with no means of getting off. The only difference is this time the world doesn’t become shrouded in darkness, where a person with the ability to see in the dark has a distinct advantage. The civilians in the original have also been replaced with bounty hunters, making the whole film feel like an extended version of the bounty hunter sequence in “Chronicles.” The only part in “Riddick” that feels original is the beginning, when the character is forced to adapt to his harsh surroundings, showing how much of a survivor he really is.

For the most part, “Riddick” plays out almost exactly like “Pitch Black” only with better effects. The script, by David Twohy, writer and director of the other Riddick movies, follows the first film too closely, so when the group begins to break down or the monsters show up it registers as nothing more than a ho-hum, what else is new. Never mind that the dialogue borders on direct-to-video quality, and everything borrowed from the other two films have a stale, been there done that quality to them.

“Pitch Black” remains the best Riddick vehicle to date. It allowed the character to be as dangerous as he wanted to be, with an ambiguous moral code that was impossible to figure out. “The Chronicles of Riddick” swallowed the man whole, losing the man in some convoluted sci-fi story involving a weird religion and too much backstory on Riddick that trying to describe it would make a person go cross-eyed. “Riddick” plays it a little too safe, as if its more concerned about getting a fourth Riddick film greenlit than making sure the third one was fresh and entertaining.

Why is it so hard to make a really good Riddick movie? Twohy and Diesel seem so set on having Riddick scare bounty hunters that the very idea of having the character do anything besides try to get off of a planet is heresy. We’ve already seen Riddick get off a planet he’s stranded on. We’ve also seen him dispatch of bounty hunters with relative ease. With the right story, Riddick could be a classic anti-hero. Instead, he’s stuck in neutral, just like the movie named after him.