Friday, September 6, 2013


At the beginning of Riddick the title character, the interplanetary tough guy played by Vin Diesel—he originated in 2000’s Pitch Black—has been left in a bloody heap by his enemies on a desolate desert planet. No problem. He quickly resets his injured leg with the help of a crevasse—I mentioned he was tough, right?

The hellish world is inhabited by monsters, including some huge scorpion/earwig thingies that remain dormant, like spadefoot toads, until they get wet. He engages in combat with several of the beasties, armed only with whatever comes to hand. He quickly figures out how to survive in the caves and rock formations. He even domesticates one of the planet’s handsome wild-dog-like creatures—you can guess where this strand leads.

Pretty soon Riddick notices a rainstorm approaching, and realizes that he has to go, so he sends out a distress call. Being a wanted man, his call summons two spaceship-loads of scurvy gnarly mercenaries, all of whom want to capture and/or kill him. Riddick plays cat and mouse with them, heavy on the cat, as the rains get nearer.

Here’s a partial inventory of Riddick’s contents: Flying monsters, crawling monsters, slimy eels, automatic weapons, long-range sniper rifles, swords, huge animal traps, explosions, guys with grungy facial hair, Dave Bautista, Bokeem Woodbine, Katee Sackhoff, nudity, Katee Sackhoff nudity, parleys, infighting, snarling invective, repeated pummelings, a man in chains, elaborate vows of vengeance effortlessly delivered upon, flying jet-cycles, and even a long-absent old favorite: causing a woman to reconsider her lesbianism! I think it’s safe to call Riddick a guy movie.

In spite or maybe because of its predictability, occasional ugliness and defiantly imbecilic dialogue, it’s funny for most of its length, partly because writer-director David Twohy maintains an edge of self-parody. At least I hope he didn’t mean this dialogue seriously. It’s also because, like a lot of guy movies, Riddick, for all its violence and supposed nihilism, is deeply sentimental—until about midpoint it could, I suppose, be called a boy and his dog story.

This side of the material is where Vin Diesel’s true appeal comes in. There’s always been an improbable warmth and soulfulness lurking beneath his basso growl and his post-apocalyptic look—and, in this movie, his glowing eyes. It came through when he voiced the title character in that excellent 1999 animated film The Iron Giant, and it comes through in Riddick, too. In spite of his corny badass pose, Diesel’s Riddick comes across like a sweetie, a mensch.

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