“The Chronicles of Riddick” is a silly movie, but aren’t all fantasy films, really? Most of what happens here is no less believable than, say, a pointy-eared man taking down a gigantic warrior elephant single-handedly in the midst of a massive battle fought alongside ghost soldiers who are working off a debt they owe a long-dead king. I’m just sayin’.
It’s technique that separates something brilliant like “Return of the King” from something absurd like “The Chronicles of Riddick.” David Twohy has the ideas, I think, and he obviously cares enough about them to make this sequel to a film nobody saw (“Pitch Black”). What he lacks is the finesse, the subtle skill of making ridiculous dialogue plausible and the ability to cast actors good enough to deliver it.
Vin Diesel was not yet a star when “Pitch Black” came out. Since then, of course, he has become a star and then become not one again — pity “Riddick” didn’t come out two years ago, while his celebrity was still at its peak.
At any rate, he plays Riddick, who in “Pitch Black” was established as an evil murderer with a peculiar aversion to light and a knack for escaping even the most dogged of pursuers. He is the same here, a few years later, when a religion of Necromongers has sprung up seeking to either convert or kill all humans. A prophecy long ago foretold that one of the Furian race would defeat the Necromonger Lord Marshal (Colm Feore); hence, the Lord Marshal had that race annihilated. Whoops, though, he missed one, and it is Riddick.
Riddick is not especially interested in saving humanity, which makes sense, given his fondness for killing people. But he is enlisted nonetheless by a wispy fairy-woman named Aereon (Judi Dench), who appears occasionally to deliver exposition and then, noticing the movie is sucking, disappears again.
First, though, Riddick has to go to a prison planet called Crematoria to rescue a friend/nemesis named Kyra (Alexa Davalos). It is on Crematoria that the film’s dumbest events occur, all centering around the planet’s curious weather patterns: It is 700 degrees during the day, -300 at night. People are incinerated the instant sunlight touches them, yet for some reason, no one needs so much as a sweater at night, when it’s -300.
Also, you can escape the deadly heat if you hide in the outcropping of a rock or in some other shady place. You’d think that when it’s 700 degrees out, it would still be, oh, maybe 690 in the shade. But no. On Crematoria, when it’s high noon and people are bursting into flames before your eyes, you’re nice and comfortable as long as the sun isn’t hitting you directly. Such egregious ignorance of the way weather works has not been displayed since … well, a couple weeks ago, when “The Day After Tomorrow” came out.
Also, it’s pretty easy to outrun the sun on Crematoria. When you see it’s about to be sunrise, and light is beginning to flood the landscape, you just have to book it in the other direction and you’re fine. I mean, you have to run FAST and everything, but it is possible. (On Earth, by the way, you’d have to be running about 1,000 miles per hour, but maybe Crematoria rotates a lot more slowly.)
Anyway, while all this is going on, there’s a guy back with the Necromongers named Vaako (Karl Urban) who wants to be Lord Marshal. To that end, his wife (Thandie Newton) Lady Macbeths him, urging him to kill the current L.M. and take his position. The Necromongers have a weird rule where “you keep what you kill,” meaning, I guess, that if you kill me, you get to be my wife’s new husband. What if you are a woman? Then you’re my wife’s new wife, I suppose. I don’t have a wife, so it’s all moot, but you get the idea: The Necromongers are not against killing each other in order to get what they want.
Vin Diesel, that thick slab of rounded meat — honestly, there’s not an angle anywhere on him — well, I still like the guy. His delivery of the dialogue presented to him, as always, walks the line between ludicrous and cool. Others in the cast are not quite as adept with it, tending toward overacting and hysteria. But I guess you expect that sort of thing in this sort of movie.
What sort of movie is this? Well, it has the glib idiocy of an action flick, but the breadth and self-importance of a fantasy film. It has multitudes of characters, worlds and ideas, most of which are usually absent in the action genre; it also doesn’t have all that much action, frankly. Twohy clearly wanted to make something more than your average blow-’em-up popcorn picture, and his ambition is admirable. I like that he even TRIED to include themes from Shakespeare and Greek tragedy. But more than mere ambition is required to pull off something as bombastic and bloated as this without it looking, you know, bombastic and bloated. I kinda liked it, sort of, but then again, not really.
C+ (1 hr., 57 min.; )