Many times I have made the case for high-minded science fiction, arguing that it is a genre that allows us to grapple with some of life’s biggest questions. Science fiction also just so happens to be a nifty place to have some big, dumb, ridiculous fun.
Such is the case with “Riddick,” now the third movie to feature Vin Diesel as the titular intergalactic-killing-machine with a heart of gold.
Riddick first showed up in 2000 in the surprisingly clever and underrated “Pitch Black.” That ensemble movie initially introduced Riddick as the villain amongst a group of survivors who crash land on an alien world. By the end, he is the unlikely hero and survivor after hordes of alien creatures start picking off cast members one by one.
He showed up again in 2004 in “The Chronicles of Riddick,” which tried to dump a whole misguided mythology on the character. The less said about that movie the better.
With “Riddick” we’ve gotten back to basics with a lean plot, gory action, and a relaxed, pulpy sensibility.
The movie begins with Riddick left for dead on an uninhabited planet (don’t ask why it’s not important) with only his wits and his genetically enhanced night-vision to protect him.
Roughly the first third of the movie is Vin Diesel versus the elements as he lives off the land and fights off a whole array of alien wildlife. Because he is a total badass, it’s no time before he settles in, sets up a swank little cave condo, and even gets a dog in the form of this huge alien/dingo/jackal thing.
Eventually, the sweet bachelor life gets tiresome and Riddick decides it’s time to get off the planet, so he sends out a distress signal, which immediately attracts two separate groups of mercenaries there to collect the substantial bounty on Riddick’s head.
The rest of the movie features a lot of cat-and-mouse with the bounty hunters, deals and double-crosses, alien beasties, and endless intimidating looks from Vin Diesel.
I’ve never been much of a fan of Diesel, who always seems to take himself way too seriously, like the bouncer at an 18-and-over club who likes to wear t-shirts three sizes too small.
He’s basically a poor man’s Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (and that’s saying something) and I find it pretty much impossible to take him seriously as an actor in any situation, even when he’s crashing cars in those super-cartoony “Fast & Furious” movies.
But stick him on a planet with three suns and have him roll around in the dirt while punching aliens in the face and I’m back on the Diesel train. He’s perfect for these movies as only in the farthest reaches of space is it acceptable to say the lines “He tried to ghost me,” or “I had to find the animal inside” without any hint of irony.
All three Riddick movies have been written and directed by David Twohy, who knowingly and confidently delivers all this preposterous crap while expertly holding the audience’s attention.
You can almost feel his delight as he mixes together elements of “First Blood,” “Cast Away” and “Aliens” as he concocts his trashy, sci-fi thrills.
There’s nothing here that’s intellectually redeemable; just the good, old-fashioned movie mania that piloted the matinee heroics of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. “Riddick” is just the movie that space cadets have been waiting for.
“Riddick” is rated R for strong violence, language, and some sexual content/nudity.