September 8, 2013 -- After the 2004 movie, “The Chronicles of Riddick,” which was a commercial and critical failure, not counting DVD sales, I was a little leery (Full disclosure: I did my part by buying a used Riddick “Trilogy” DVD that included the animated film “The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury” along with “Chronicles” and “Pitch Black”). I was glad I decided to see it. “Riddick” is not a great movie, but it is a decent summer action film, and there haven't been many of those this year.
The guy who plays Riddick, Vin Diesel, has had an up and down career in Hollywood, but the last couple of years have good for Diesel. His last two “Fast and Furious” franchise films have been big hits. Diesel is working on a film, “Hannibal the Conqueror,” about the legendary Carthaginian general, and he is using these Riddick and Fast and Furious films to help finance it. More power to him. That is a worthy project.
In “Riddick,” Diesel is playing a character much like Robert E. Howard's character Conan the Barbarian. He is a brutal, cunning, strong, deadly, indomitable warrior, but he adheres to a code of honor, while his enemies do not. His enemies are civilized, but their civilization is corrupt, while Riddick, the barbarian, has a kind of savage nobility. More than anything, Riddick, like Conan, is a survivor. Conan also became a king, as Riddick is, when the story begins in this film.
Riddick, eager to find his lost home world of Furya, makes a political deal in return for a promise to be told the location of Furya. Upon landing upon a desolate, dangerous planet (which turns out not to be Furya) Riddick is betrayed and left for dead, but he survives his injuries, and the deadly alien animals, including wolf-like creatures. He finds a base used by mercenaries, who are looking for him, and he invites them down to the planet to battle with him. The mercenaries are led by a ruthless killer, Santana (played by Jordi Mollà of “Bad Boys II”). Mollà has a kind of Peter Stormare-like menacing vibe going for him.
What follows is a cat and mouse game between Riddick and some mercenaries. It turns out the mercenaries are no match for Riddick, but then another ship lands, with a smarter, better-equipped crew who want Riddick for another reason, led by Boss Johns (played by Matt Nable of “Killer Elite”) and sharpshooter Dahl (Katee Sackhoff of “Battlestar Galactica”). Eventually, the mercenaries, Riddick and all the others are trapped in the base, where they are under attack from large, deadly animals. They have to work together to survive.
Although this is a science fiction film, with all kinds of gadgets, a lot of the action involves swords, knives, teeth and claws. For the most part, Riddick eschews modern weapons in favor of primitive ones. He even fights dangerous animals with his bare hands, confirming his credentials as a noble savage. The idea of the noble savage is pure romanticism, but it works well enough in this kind of film, which isn't deep anyway. There is enough action, and the acting is good enough for a summer action film. This is a refreshing change from a season in which most big summer action films have been disappointing. There is also some partial nudity and graphic talk about sex. This film rates a C+.
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