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Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013 05:04 pm

Riddick: A bit of B-movie heaven


Vin Diesel as Riddick in Riddick.

While some may say that Will Smith and Tom Cruise are the biggest movie stars in the world, I’d make a case that Vin Diesel is right on their heels. As proof, I submit his latest action epic Riddick, a sequel that only a star with major clout could get made. After all, the previous entry in this left-for-dead series, The Chronicles of Riddick was made all the way back in 2004 and was drubbed by critics and hardly embraced by the actor’s fans. However, once you’ve racked up billions for a studio, thanks to the Fast and Furious franchise, you can call your shots and if Mr. Diesel wants to make another entry in a moribund series, well so be it.

A bigger surprise, other than the fact that this film was made in the first place, is that it’s a well-made throwback to a more modest sort of action movie. With a fraction of the budget usually allotted to a summer blockbuster ($38 million), writer/director David Twohy revels in the cheapness of the production and the story reflects this as well. Using Key Largo, Hondo, The Thing, Rio Bravo and Lost in Space as touchstones, the filmmaker has cobbled together a plot composed of a myriad of well-worn elements and has managed to squeeze a bit more juice out of the plot points he’s borrowed.

Having been exiled after being betrayed by those he reluctantly agreed to rule, Riddick (Diesel) is forced to adapt to the harsh conditions of the planet he’s been left on. If the environment, which could be described as prehistoric, doesn’t kill you, then its inhabitants will. Flocks of savage flying reptiles, packs of hyenas the size of Great Danes and giant swimming scorpions dog our hero at every step. However, Riddick is nothing if not resourceful and as the years pass he learns to survive, having domesticated one of the wild dogs to help him. Yet, a threat presents itself that’s larger than our hero’s impressive capabilities so he triggers a distress signal in the hopes of being rescued. His plan works too well. Not just one, but two ships come to his aid, one carrying a crew of bounty hunters eager to collect the price on his head, and the other with a group led by a man with a personal vendetta against Riddick.

Twohy’s very deliberate in the way he executes the story and in many ways it ends up being a character study of the title character. With the exception of a quick flashback sequence, a full 40 minutes goes by before anyone other than Diesel appears on the screen and during that time we become reacquainted with Riddick and witness how resourceful he truly is. More importantly, we become fully immersed in the hostile environment and this is all due to the film’s star. Without question, Diesel has presence and it’s on full display here, especially during the movie’s last hour. However, his acting ability is often given short shrift yet he pulls off an interesting trick here that will likely be overlooked by many. It should be kept in mind that the actor is acting against nothing while he’s on screen alone. A greenscreen is his backdrop and any creatures he battles are nothing more than a tennis ball on stick that will be replaced later by a computer-generated image. It’s not Shakespeare but the reactive performance he gives is fueled by his imagination and his ability to convince us that all he sees and battles is real helps hook us and follow him on this gruesome adventure.

Credit Twohy with generating considerable suspense during the film’s last 40 minutes as Riddick and the survivors of the two ships find themselves under siege, as a terrific storm and a horde of aliens buffet them from outside. As the title character manipulates his enemies by getting into their heads and they end up being picked off one by one, the tension steadily and effectively increases. It ends up being great fun and while it comes as no surprise that our hero ends up living to see another day, that I wouldn’t mind going on another adventure with him is.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.


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