I really wanted to enjoy Riddick: I like science fiction, it’s a rare hard-R, mainstream sci-fi flick which doesn’t balk at how battle-toughened mercenaries would talk, act and die, and, despite my aversion to the Fast and Furious franchise or Babylon A.D. or A Man Apart or The Pacifier or any of his other bad movies, I like Vin Diesel, he just seems like a cool dude. Sadly, Riddick, while fitfully enjoyable, is more often dull than compelling.
Likely, the strongest sequence comes in the beginning with Riddick left for dead on an unknown planet. Here Diesel gets to wander, brood, plan, rebuild and be surprisingly caring over a mostly beautiful rocky desert. The landscape and sky effects create the bare-bones isolation essential to survival sci-fi. While the effects on the dog-like creatures are a bit shaky, sometimes believable, sometimes not, the design of the giant scorpions is tremendous, down to the tail breathing. The second act works as a reversal of the traditional monster movie as the protagonist spends long stretches off-screen, picking off enemies one-by-one. It’s an interesting angle but holds still too long and loses any momentum into the final act. The result is an unremarkable Alien clone with bigger action scenes and no sense of pace or tension.
The character of Riddick is enjoyable for both the audience and, clearly, Diesel himself. The vulnerability of the first act makes it clear that the unstoppable, prophetic killing machine of the second is an image that Riddick himself works hard to uphold. Those like me who are unfamiliar with the Riddick franchise aren’t given much reason to root for him (uncomfortable advances at the lesbian character aside), but it’s fun to watch him sneer and kill people.
In terms of B-movie essentials Riddick delivers nasty deaths, turn-off-your-brain plot, neat technology, bad CGI and gratuitous nudity, yet the gaps between action scenes are too long and too stationary to carry through. The best creature features know how to play silence as terror; Riddick treats silence as empty. [subscribe2]