Starring Vin Diesel, Karl Urban & Katee Sackhoff
I think in Vin Diesel’s ideal version of things, the Fast and Furious franchise and The Riddick franchise switch places. Of course this is all conjecture, but Diesel has always seemed to approach the Fast and Furious movies with an ‘alright, if you insist’ attitude. He flat out turned down 2 Fast 2 Furious and wasn’t heavily involved in Tokyo Drift either. Only when his career began to stagnate did he return to the franchise, and has since proceeded to play the role with about as much enthusiasm for it as a slug has for salt.
The Riddick franchise however, is clearly his true love. He turned down the 10 million dollar 2 Fast paycheque in lieu of taking a much more modest fee for the Chronicles of Riddick (Though can seven figure salaries ever really be modest?) and according to his own mouth made his cameo in Tokyo Drift to secure the name rights to the Riddick franchise and secure the possibility of getting this current Riddick movie made. Not to mention the two (very high quality) Riddick video games he has produced and starred in, and the simple fact that of all the Vin Diesels we’ve seen in the movies, this is the only role where he appears to come alive.
Now make no mistake I’m a big fan of Pitch Black. I think it stands atop all the fallen corpses of hundreds of Alien rip-offs as the best Alien rip-off in existence. Thrilling, morally ambiguous and deceptively intelligent, Pitch Black is as classy and rich as a sci-fi slasher has any right to be, and Diesel’s performance in it is the only time I’d venture to call him ‘excellent’ in a movie. This new Riddick is very much committed to taking us back to that movie, and doing its best to erase the bloated, hazy space operatics of Chronicles of Riddick. We’re back to basics here, Riddick on a hostile planet, monsters that follow bizarre natural patterns coming to kill him, back to being hunted by mercs, the whole shebang.
If anything the movie is almost trying too hard to recall Pitch Black, with a major character in this reboot sharing a connection from the original that seems to exist for no other reason than to remind us how the original was awesome and stuff. The film’s script is oddly disjointed, with the film feeling like its three different half hour vignettes rather than a coherent movie. The first a Riddick Vs Wild short, a stripped to the bone survivalist thriller, close to silent (outside of some clunky expositional stuff to explain how he got there) as he puts his wits against a harsh environment and a variety of territorial beasts. The second a cat and mouse game between our hero and the two gangs of mercenaries who arrive on the planet to claim his head, and the third straight up Pitch Black, fighting gross monsters in the dark type deal.
Diesel isn’t the most varied or talented actor, but I enjoy watching him in this role. He seems to find another gear and things are at their best when he’s on screen. The film falls flat however with the supporting cast, most notably Jordi Molla as Santana. Santana holds quite an important role in the film as he is essentially the surrogate villain until the final third, yet he is a horribly conceived and executed character. A soap opera villain, who manages to be misogynistic, ignorant, ill-prepared, cowardly and pathetic in his 25 minutes or so of screen time, he’s given absolutely no quarter, nothing to make him a legitimate opponent for Riddick or even an engaging character. Not to mention that Molla’s English pronunciation (He’s a Spanish actor) isn’t the best and he butchers some already pretty terrible David Twohy dialogue. Molla didn’t seem like an inherently bad actor to me, but the character basically ruins the second vignette of the story.
Matt Nable’s Boss Johns fares slightly better, at least he has a depreciable arc, but the character never really escapes blandness and is certainly less interesting than Cole Hauser’s Johns character from the original Pitch Black, a comparison I wouldn’t make if the movie didn’t force me too by constantly referring to him. Nerd queen Katee Sackhoff’s sniper Dahl is probably the best of the bunch, but even she isn’t given much to work with beyond ‘tough chick archetype’ but you can feel her having fun in the role. As for the rest, Nolan Funk’s newbie religious merc seems woefully underwritten and jarringly out of place, Dave Bautista makes mean eyes well enough as Diaz and the rest are not really worth mentioning.
The film feels like a mess, one that’s trying to cram too much in despite it being a relatively simple set-up, and in a way I feel like the film might even have been better if it had cut out the monsters entirely and had just been Riddick vs Mercenaries, even with the albatross of the Santana character. That might have felt less tired than the final third of this film, which just seemed to be going through the motions. I did enjoy parts here and there, and I think there is potential for this universe. I’d like the next one, if there is a next one, to pay a little more attention to getting character right, as creating an engaging supporting cast is key to making these kind of films work at a higher level. You know, the way it did in Pitch Black