Starring: Vin Diesel, Katee Sackhoff, Matt Nable
Directed by: David Twohy (“Pitch Black,” “The Chronicles of Riddick”)
Written by: David Twohy (“The Chronicles of Riddick,” “Waterworld”)
The term “pulp” gets tossed around quite a bit when it comes to movies that some people find charming in spite of their obvious drawbacks. Whether it’s bad acting, sub-par special effects, or a story that an over-caffinated 3rd grader would reject as too scattershot and unrealistic, when a film registers as pulp to a viewer, all sins are forgiven. Sure, to the rest of the world, the film sucks. But to those who have allowed the pulpiness wash over them, the movie becomes endearing, something unappreciated by the masses. Which brings us to “Riddick,” both the movie and the character, Richard B. Riddick.
Introduced 13 years ago with little fanfare in the small-scale sci-fi thriller “Pitch Black,” Vin Diesel’s Riddick was a deep-voiced antihero that struck the right note with fans and corresponded with Diesel’s “Fast and Furious”-fueled rise to fame. With that success came madness, apparently, as Diesel and director David Twohy followed their cult hit with the fantastically bombastic “The Chronicles of Riddick,” which, in hindsight, plays like a proto-”John Carter” complete with the subpar box office and obtuse mythology (I mean they called it “The Chronicles of Riddick” for crying out loud). The giant shrug that greeted that film paired with Diesel’s fading stardom seemingly marooned Riddick on the remote planet of failed sci-fi/fantasty franchises, whiling away his days with whatever Mark Wahlberg’s character’s name was in Tim Burton’s “Planet of the Apes” and the polar bear from “The Golden Compass.”
A few more successful “Fast and Furious” movies, though, earned Diesel the movie-star right to make a new Riddick adventure, albeit without the budget “Chronicles” was able to command. After some unnecessary house-cleaning bridging “Riddick” to its predecessor, the film becomes lean and sparse, foregoing the epic feel audiences rejected the last time out and instead turning Riddick against a small crew of bounty hunters and a planet’s worth of lethal alien reptiles. Eventually the mercenaries hunting Riddick must form an uneasy alliance with the criminal if they hope to make it off the planet alive.
While I suspect “Riddick” will undoubtedly find fans that appreciate it as a pulp sci-fi adventure, most audiences will likely find it a chintzy knock-off of things they’ve seen numerous times before, including “Pitch Black.” The bounty hunters are all cribbed from every space-faring bounty hunter to hit the screen since the beginning of time, the dialogue is pure string cheese peppered with curse words, and the alien landscapes evoke all the awe and wonder of a Canadian soundstage wallpapered in green screen. The two most interesting characters end up being a computer-generated alien dog and Katee Sackhoff’s microwaved spin on her role as Starbuck in “Battlestar Galactica,” only this time she gets to cuss for real instead of having to resort to saying “frak.” Riddick may be the unlikeliest franchise in Hollywood right now, which makes its pulpiness even more disappointing.