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 V.13 No.25 | June 17 - 23, 2004 

Film Review

The Chronicles of Riddick

Overblown sci-fi spectacle still explosive entertainment

Taking his acting cues from his friends the rocks, Vin remains tough, inflexible and nonverbal
Taking his acting cues from his friends the rocks, Vin remains tough, inflexible and nonverbal

The Chronicles of Riddick

Directed by David Twohy

Cast: Vin Diesel, Judi Dench

Vin Diesel is pretty much the definition of a modern, manufactured movie star. He's famous, but it's a little hard to figure out why. He's usually cited as the star of The Fast and The Furious and xXx. Fast and the Furious made a respectable $140 million at the box office. Unfortunately, the non-Diesel-fueled sequel, 2 Fast 2 Furious, made $130 million without him. xXx also made $140 million. Unfortunately, it cost nearly $90 million to make. Like 2 Fast before it, the sequel will be made without Diesel's expensive help.

Now comes the bald beefcake's biggest box office bow to date: The Chronicles of Riddick, a $120 million sequel to a film that made less than $40 million at the box office.

If you're unfamiliar with Pitch Black, there's no pressing need to run out and rent the video. An entertaining, low-budget horror flick, Pitch Black cast Diesel as an intergalactic criminal stranded on an alien planet covered in darkness-loving beasties. Diesel--who was not the film's star--turned out to be the biggest attraction. Naturally, there was talk of bringing Diesel's mysterious anti-hero back for a sequel.

Few could have imagined the result, however. While Black was an effective, B-grade spookhouse ride, Chronicles is a ridiculously expensive, monumentally overblown, FX-engorged summer movie epic featuring Diesel as Sylvester Stallone, Han Solo and Jesus all rolled into one meaty package.

Five years have passed since the events of Pitch Black. Riddick has been on the run from assorted bounty hunters interested in cashing in his valuable hide. Determined to track down the source of the bounty, Riddick ends up on some planet with a funny name (there are a lot of funny names in this movie), where a mystical “elemental” named Aereon (Judi Dench) has faked up the bounty to lure him out of hiding.

Apparently, there's this race of really nasty, half-dead religious freaks known as the Necromongers. They're trekking their way across the galaxy converting entire races and blowing up the planets of those who don't fall immediately into line. For the sake of purely lazy scriptwriting convenience, it has been phophesied that only a member of the long-lost Furion race can kill the leader of the Necromongers (the appropriately megalomaniacal Colm Fiore). ... Now where are we gonna find a Furion? Wait! Wouldn't you know it? Riddick just happens to be the last living Furion.

There are lots of big fight scenes and plenty of jumping around the galaxy. At some point, Riddick ends up on the smokin' hot prison planet of Crematoria (I told you there were a lot of dumb names) where he seeks out his old friend Jack (the androgynous little girl he saved in the first film, who's now a buff babe played by Alexa Davalos).

There's a ton of information thrown at audiences over the course of this film, and viewers will be forgiven for forgetting if they're on the planet Helion Prime or in the Emerald City of Oz. There are times when the mystical mumbo jumbo starts to sound a little like The Matrix. Fortunately, Chronicles isn't quite that pretentious. Despite all the convoluted subplots and planet-hopping, it's clear this will all come down to one big WWE-style bust-up between Riddick and the super-powered Lord Marshall of the Necromongers.

In all honesty, the action in Chronicles is pretty explosive. At times it's edited together a bit too quickly to really see what's going on, but it gets the adrenaline pumping nonetheless. Riddick's escape from Crematoria is scientifically preposterous, but it is pretty exciting.

Also, the production design is far, far better than a musclebound action flick like this deserves. Chronicles is certainly a distinctive looking film, with its bizarre architecture, incredible weaponry and impossibly grandiose machinery. It borrows an awful lot from David Lynch's Dune, and throws in a lot of H.R. Geiger, but it looks better than the last 10 sci-fi films I've seen.

The PG-13-rated Chronicles of Riddick seems to be aiming at a younger audience, so it's probably no wonder that the characters all seem like they belong on an episode of “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.” Judi Dench stands around looking clueless for most of her spaced-out, Obi-Wan Kenobi wannabe role. Thandi Newton, playing the Necromonger Lady Macbeth, leaves her teeth marks all over the scenery and looks like a cross between Morticia Addams and Cruella DeVille. Diesel scowls and spits out the occasional action hero quip. He does it quite well, but this sort of thing went out of style with the start of Arnold Schwarzenegger's political career. Would it kill you to emote once in while, Vin?

The characters are flat, the script has got plot holes you could drive a spaceship through and the entire project it hopelessly overblown. But if you're in it for the pure, dumb spectacle of it all, The Chronicles of Riddick delivers a solid one-two punch.

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