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Riddick

Riddick

Dark, darker than the darkest dark chocolate

dir: David Twohy

You get these strange moments in the world of cinema where, because of your familiarity with its ins and outs, you get the stupid impression that nothing will ever surprise you again. It’s the height of foolishness.

The movie industry is always surprising me. How it continues to exist in this age, the sheer abundance of films it keeps pumping out to ever decreasing profits; it staggers me that it’s still going. Most of all, some of the movies they make thinking there’s an audience for them surprises the hell out of me.

That they, in their infinite wisdom, have made a third Riddick movie, imagining as they have, or at least hoping desperately that the multitudes are clamouring to see this character again, for me is on a par with a studio thinking the world wants to see a Jar Jar Binks movie. Or that the world needs, desperately craves a Turner & Hooch follow-up, or that Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger should make a sequel to Twins. Call it Triplets! Get Mel Gibson to play the middle one! Everyone from your maiden aunt to dribbling infants will kill to see that!

I didn’t know Riddick existed until Riddick came out, and I was determined not to see it because Chronicles of Riddick was such a terrible, terrible movie. It turned a cheap badass anti-hero character from an Aliens rip-off (Pitch Black, the first flick that kicked this unlikely franchise off), into a Conan the Barbarian in Space Dune/Highlander ripoff which even had Judi Dench - Dame Judi goddamn Dench – as some kind of space – air elemental in it, doing it solely for what I hope was a substantial paycheck.

As another great Dame of the cinematic arts, being Dame Helen Mirren, once said when she was being mocked about appearing in the notoriously shitty and pornographic flick Caligula, “Hey, at least that piece of shit paid for my holiday house in Italy”. For what they paid Dench, I hope it was enough to drop an even bigger holiday house on top of Helen Mirren’s holiday house, crushing it to smithereens.

What people got paid to be in this flick, I can’t even guess, but I wouldn’t think it was much more than the loose change in Vin Diesel’s pockets. And it would have been in Canadian loose change at that. The more the flick went on, the more convinced I was that it was a Canadian production. When you’ve seen enough flicks, you can tell something is made in Canada just from a few seconds of screen time. Even if it’s meant to be an alien desert world with an inhospitable atmosphere, I can still see the Canadianness of it all.

This is a film of three thirds, well, naturally it’s three thirds, I guess it couldn’t be twelve-thirds could it. The first third explains (pointlessly) why Riddick is on this shitty planet, eking out a desperate existence under constant threat from the environment, and dealing with a broken leg. This is probably the best part of the movie, if, in fact, the movie has a best bit.

We didn’t need to have any mentions of the second film, or to see anything about it ever again, but unfortunately they, being Diesel and David Twohy, believe in the thoroughly retarded mythology of this character, and had to fill us in.

I did the mental equivalent of smushing my hands over my ears and yelling “Lah lah lah, I’m not taking this in” during the bits with the Necromongers, the bloody space goth Necromongers from the second film, and as soon as they were gone I started listening again. All we really needed to know is: Riddick ended up on this planet. The planet is harsh. He wants to get off the planet, and about the only way he can do that is by announcing his presence on the planet to the bounty hunters keen to catch him and / or kill him.

The second third of the flick has a bunch of people appearing on the planet who think they’ll be the ones to capture and / or kill Riddick. In this section, Riddick, that nocturnal freak who talks like someone talking through their tracheotomy incision, basically turns into the shark from Jaws in this part of the flick. He’s rarely seen, he's entirely mechanical, but he’s very effective.

It’s a strange shift in perspective for us, the audience. Usually, or in a different iteration of this kind of flick, we’d be siding with the people who are under siege, trying to survive as an almost supernaturally ruthless killer starts taking them down one by one. But presumably, considering how annoying most of them are, we’re meant to be on Riddick’s side, and curiosity is not how or who’s going to survive, but how Riddick’s going to kill them, and when.

Again, not wanting this flick to truly stand alone, the events of the first two flicks keep coming back up, forcing themselves into the action. In Pitch Black, a guy called Johns (Cole Hauser) came to a sticky end in Riddick’s presence, earning a well-earned death for pissing Riddick off. In this flick, Johns’ dad, also going by the moniker Johns (Matthew Nable) wants answers, damn it. He wants to know what happened to Johns Junior.

He also perhaps wants to know what happened to Cole Hauser’s film career, but that’s probably an issue for another day.

Riddick is, in this section until he is brought to heel, quite the malevolent presence, quite the out-and-out bad guy, part ninja, part animal, and it’s funny to watch the mercenaries start to shit themselves.

The third section, where a whole bunch of scorpion-like creatures go on a hydrated rampage is easily the least successful. It’s hard to take this kind of Aliens-like alien creature rampage seriously these days since with CGI creatures it all looks like murky and unreal shit. There’s no weight to what we’re seeing, and it’s far less interesting watching them killing people than watching Riddick kill people. But the third section, mimicking as it does both earlier flicks, in that some environmental event renders an already harsh landscape totally lethal by unleashing some multitude of creatures or threatening to kill the characters itself.

The only reason that the world keeps being ‘gifted’ with more Riddick movies is because Vin Diesel really believes in the character, and Universal lets him make them because he keeps appearing in the Fast and the Furious films, which have inexplicably earned the studio billions of dollars, literally, billions of dollars. Plus, they, as in the studio, actually gave Vin Diesel the rights to the Riddick franchise, which to me is the equivalent of Hugh Hefner signing over the rights for the Playboy bunny logo to one of his Playboy Bunnies.

I can’t and won’t say that it was a particularly great film. It’s an okay action flick, and it has a fair few moments that were well put together, especially in the first two sections before the water scorpion hordes start doing their thing. Diesel is good as this strange character, this strangely murderous character who keeps finding himself in the same situation in film after film, like a slightly more evil version of the John Maclean character from the Die Hard movies. This flick is best when its dealing murder from the dark, as that is Riddick’s natural element now, and the more inhospitable the environment, the more exciting it is to watch Riddick do his thing, whether he’s building his immunity to scorpion venom deliberately, screwing metal bits into his leg to keep it together, or befriending a giant dog-like creature in order to show that he’s not a complete psychopath.

But when he talks… good gods is the dialogue in this cheesy, and not in a good way, not in a nudge nudge wink wink way. Some of this crap could have been scripted by time travelling teenagers from the 1980s (maybe Bill and/or Ted?) trying to mimic their contemporary action flicks. I’m surprised some of these characters weren’t saying that they’d be back, or, ‘hang around’ after impaling someone on a wall with a knife, or ‘want a light?’ after setting someone on fire. The lines aren’t that good, and most of the actors are wasted in their limited parts. But they die real nice.

Some of the banter is okay, especially between the mercenaries when they’re making comments around the margins, let’s say. The scene where the various people who aren’t Riddick are debating whether Riddick might have tampered with an explosive lock is also pretty good as a study of group dynamics and people freaking themselves out with possibilities. Also, the final fate of Santana (the incomprehensible Jordi Molla, leader of one of the groups), as promised to Riddick, and then promised, in turn, by Riddick, made me laugh out loud, long and hearty.

This is less Predator, and more Predators. This is less Aliens, and more Aliens Vs Predator. Wait, wait, I’m seeing a perfect confluence of ideas, here.

It’s also a complete egofest for Diesel. All the narration (unfortunately) is his droning rasp, and virtually all the dialogue muttered by any other character in the movie is stuff about Riddick. Everyone always has to be talking about what he just did, what he’s about to do, how much of a badass it is. I’m getting the feeling that Vin Diesel is becoming even more insecure than Barbara Streisand.

Boss Johns, or at least the actor playing him, does strangely all right. He is the only one with personal animus towards Riddick, and with good reason, but he’s also probably the only decent person in the flick. He’s not more noble than the dog, but at least he’s not a slavering moron or a sadist like almost everyone else. He gives a credible performance in a flick not requiring credible performances from anyone including Riddick.

The special effects are woefully cheesy, the last part is a wash, the overall effect is to make you feel slightly cheated, slightly dumber as a person, but it wasn’t a horrible way to spend two hours. Sometimes I enjoy some hyper-masculinist, super-macho rugged individualist stuff, and that is what you except and demand from a beefy, beefy slab of beef like Vin Diesel.

Say what you will about the Bruiser from Butcher Bay: he always delivers the meat, just like he promises.

6 times much of the dialogue could have been reduced to “grunt, grunt, grunt, grunt, kill, grunt, grunt” and it would hardly have made a discernable difference out of 10

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“Somewhere along the way I lost a step, got sloppy, dulled my own edge. Maybe I went and did the worst crime of all: I got civilised.” – there’s nothing wrong with bathing every now and then, dude – Riddick.

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