Riddickulously entertaining, even with the production budget of Victor Fleming’s original test reel of ”Wizard of Oz”, Vin Diesel returns the ”Riddick” franchise (which kicked off with 2000’s ”Pitch Black”) to its stripped-back, matinee-monster-movie roots.
With a helluva fun storyline, complimented by a barrage of interesting characters (not the least of which is musclebound Diesel’s goggle-eyed hero), audiences might not even notice that the threequel has the budget of a ‘Star Wars’ fan film.
Story goes, Universal weren’t happy with the returns on the last ‘Riddick’ film, 2004’s ”Chronicles of Riddick” (word of mouth quickly spread that it was sewer cinema, thus the low, low numbers) that they basically abandoned all plans for further adventures of the space-homed hero, played by Diesel. But the jumpsuit full of walnuts felt there was still untapped potential in the series, so offered Universal a trade – he would make a cameo in ”The Fast & The Furious : Tokyo Drift” (a franchise he had no interest at the time in returning to) in exchange for the rights to Riddick.
Diesel, with ”Pitch Black” and ”Chronicles of Riddick” writer-director David Twohy, didn’t have Universal’s chequebook to play with this time, thus the lower budget on the project.
But while the lower budget might hurt the film’s production values a tad (those matte paintings look like leftovers from ”Caravan of Courage : An Ewok Adventure”), it’s made Diesel and Twohy work harder to engage their audience. Knowing they won’t have the whiz bang visuals of its predecessor at their disposal, they’ve crafted a really fun, tight and audience-friendly storyline, as well as padded the film with a range of great characters – ranging from dimish bounty hunters to extra terrestrial dogs.
Diesel, seemingly aware this is his last shot to get the franchise back on track (and particularly because there’s much at stake for him, being he produced the thing), has finetuned near every inch of the film – from the clever dialogue to the character arcs and the slightly cliché but satisfying plot. The big guy has seemingly made a movie he’d have personally enjoyed watching as a youngster – something like ”Aliens”, of which this plays somewhat like a diet version of, or something Schwarzenegger might’ve made back in the ’80s. It’s self deprecating silly, dumb fun (unlike the last film in the series, which was overly ambitious, dull and lacked compel).
Much like the film that kicked off the series, ”Pitch Black”, ”Riddick” keeps things simple : Betrayed by his own kind and left for dead on a barren planet, Riddick is forced to go all one-man army against a barrage of creatures, and later some mercenaries and bounty hunters that have tracked him down.
Diesel, obviously relishing the chance to play the cartoonish anti-hero again, is definitely the guts of the appeal here. The guy’s charisma and trademark dry line delivery is sitting atop of this float from the top of the street to the bottom.
Surrounding him, a really diverse, fun cast of performers including rising action heroine Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck from ”Battlestar Galactica”), Australian sportsman cum actor Matt Nable (”Underbelly : Badness”), Wrestling superstar Dave Bautista, who proves himself to be of great comedic timing, and a computer-generated alien dog.
Karl Urban, who had a featured role in the last film, makes a brief reappearance here too (so brief in fact it doesn’t really warrant his co-starring credit.)
Hopefully “Riddick” makes a nice profit on the international market, ensuring Diesel not only gets a chance to do a second self-produced installment of the series but one with a slightly bigger budget.