Written by David Twohy
Directed by David Twohy
For a movie about a fearsome convict on the loose, one that’s the third entry in a series about said convict, and one that’s produced by the actor playing said convict, Riddick is awfully shy about letting its title character show up on screen as much as might be desired. Vin Diesel, glowering as well as a human can, is mostly a dark and charismatic force here, as he has been in prior chapters in the long and surprisingly mythology-heavy tales of Richard B. Riddick. But Riddick is a slightly overlong two hours, and Diesel is in, at best, just one of them, a crucial and tactical error.
Riddick, as this third film opens, is stranded on a desolate, desert-like planet with no name after being betrayed by the mysterious government that helped him rise to power, if only for a fleeting moment or two. He’s been left for dead and before he can entertain thoughts of revenge against those who abandoned him, Riddick realizes that he has to get off the unknown planet before a monumental rain accompanied by a group of Lovecraftian serpents falls on his location. So he lures in bounty hunters simply to commandeer one of their ships and escape. Of course, seeing as they know Riddick well from his past encounters, they’re prepared to take him on, inspiring him to go on the stealthy attack. It’s maybe not as subtle, high-toned, or sharply honed as Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians, but there’s only so much you can hope for in life.
The first third of Riddick is legitimately compelling, pretty much because, aside from a quick flashback, Diesel is literally the only person on screen. Watching Riddick attempt to survive a strange, fierce, violent, and unfamiliar landscape, exiting one scrape and running into a new problem instantly, is frankly more interesting than watching a group of mostly nameless lunkheads fail to capture him. Writer/director David Twohy owes a lot to Diesel’s work; without him, there’s not much to Riddick, in spite of the tossed-off faux-noir narration in the early going. (Vin Diesel is maybe not the best at hard-boiled voiceover. Sam Spade, he’s not.) Twohy isn’t so fortunate with the other characters, used more as bait than as low-class survivors. A potential rivalry among the two groups of mercenaries who descend on Riddick’s location fizzles because everyone quickly realizes it’s less effective to bicker over who gets the bounty on Riddick’s head, and more effective to not get killed via Riddick’s ruthless, gory traps laid outside a lone outpost where they’ve holed up.
That aside, the bounty hunters offer a wide spectrum of odiousness, from perfectly loathsome to mildly obnoxious, so it’s not as if Riddick wiping these people out would be terribly heartbreaking. (Only Katee Sackhoff, as the sole female merc, walks out unscathed, but that’s what happens when you engender goodwill from having starred in Battlestar Galactica.) Jordi Molla’s Santana wins the big prize as the absolute worst, a character so pointlessly mean and awful that everyone else on screen is just about goading him to kill himself at one point. Riddick himself isn’t exactly a classic hero—when he has a face-to-face interaction with Sackhoff’s character, Dahl, he literally declares that they will have sex once he’s free. (Here’s some advice, kids: that’s not the best way to woo a member of the opposite sex.) Yet, he’s not quite as off-putting as the others, partly because Diesel’s more naturally charismatic than the rest of the ensemble, Sackhoff excluded.
Riddick is also a bit more convinced of its mythological importance than it deserves to be, culminating in a second-half twist that only serves to distract because the character it surrounds doesn’t look nearly old enough for the surprise to be remotely plausible. The strengths of this movie are when it indulges in the kind of old-fashioned, pulpy science-fiction that seems heavily inspired by the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Vin Diesel with a dog who somewhat resembles a zebra fighting off a scorpion with three dual pincers and spider-like eyes is an inherently silly, ridiculous concept, but one that is far more palatable and exciting than listening to a bunch of goons bicker amongst themselves before they’re picked for the slaughter. Riddick is too often sure that building up its title character as a near-immortal figure is more important than being dark, R-rated fun, a Conan the Barbarian for the 21st century. The fun—minor, perhaps, but it’s there—in that Arnold Schwarzenegger saga was that it didn’t take itself too seriously. When Riddick is enjoyable, it’s because Diesel is having a good time. But Vin Diesel’s just not in enough of this Vin Diesel movie.
— Josh Spiegel