Richard B. Riddick is having a bad day, or as he puts it, a legendary bad day. When we meet him at the start of David Twohy’s pulpy pseudo western/trashy thriller Riddick, he’s bloodied, broken and marooned on an uninhabitable planet teeming with boiling geysers and lethal creatures. With no weapons or way off the planet, it’s up to him to survive the jaundiced Martian terrain and host of carnivorous predators using the only things he has available – his body armor, his intelligence, and his survival instincts.
Told in the style of a shipwreck adventure ala Robinson Crusoe, this terrific near-wordless first act is more engaging and interesting than half of the movies that permeated multiplexes this summer. Unfortunately, that’s when the rest of the movie kicks in. After triggering a distress signal at a deserted mercenary station, Riddick attracts the attention of two teams of bounty hunters – one scummy, the other refined, both eager to collect the expensive bounty on his head (double if dead).
This group, a rag tag bunch of badasses pulled straight from the James Cameron dictionary of action movie stereotypes include all the types you’d expect to see in a movie like this. There’s the smart-ass rapist, the boring grizzled warrior, the sexy ass-kicking female warrior, the muscle-brained Hispanic guy, the sympathetic Bible-quoting upstart, the silent Native American, the tech guy, and of course, the token black guy.
Most of them serve as fodder for Riddick except for the fact that the movie completely forgets about him for a good 40 minutes in favor of establishing a Neanderthal gender politics war in the mercenary camp. When Riddick does come back into the picture, it’s to re-establish his macho superiority. Eventually, Twohy
and co-writers Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell, evidently lost for ideas, decide to rehash the same scenario seen in Pitch Black, in which the surviving mercenaries and Diesel have to join forces in order to survive the plethora of scorpion creatures.
While Riddick, which comes nine years after the box office failure of The Chronicles of Riddick, is a return to the gritty back-to-basics style of 2000’s Pitch Black, doing away with all the unnecessary mythology-building nonsense that plagued Chronicles, and in all likelihood is the best film of the trilogy, it’s also three movies in one. As stated earlier, in its largely terrific first act, Twohy shoots it as a survivalist drama in the vein of Robinson Crusoe. Then, in its second act it turns into a mash up of Yojimbo and Die Hard. By the time its third act comes around, it evolves into a rehash of Pitch Black.
Although there’s certainly a case to be made for each act on its own (imagine each of them as stand-alone comic book episodes), as a whole, the meld of adventure, science fiction, action and and mercenary movie tropes never really comes together. Riddick isn’t terrible and taken as B-grade filth, it does its job, but this is strictly, a hardcore fan-only affair. If you’re looking for anything more, you’re better off just re-watching one of the Fast and the Furious movies.