The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



Vin Diesel first played Richard Riddick in 2000, and the character has had a rather unusual ride from there. The initial film, Pitch Black, was a low-budget sci-fi flick about a serial killer with special dark vision who takes on predatory extraterrestrial beasts when the spacecraft transporting him to prison crash lands on a hostile planet. The movie became a sleeper hit, garnering a big following once it hit home video. Four years later, there was a sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick. Unlike its lean-and-mean predecessor, this chapter was an expensive mess, full of convoluted mythology that was as boring as it was difficult to follow. That should have been the end of Riddick, yet he lived on in a half-decent but largely overlooked animated movie, Dark Fury, and then rebounded in two highly acclaimed videogames, Escape From Butcher Bay and Assault on Dark Athena. Just as in the movies, he wouldn't die. The newest chapter of his saga, simply titled Riddick, suggests that he's healthier than ever.

The film largely forgets about The Chronicles of Riddick and adopts a tone more akin to Pitch Black. In Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood, there is a long, silent introductory segment in which we observe oilman Daniel Plainview as he goes about his occasionally dangerous work. Oddly enough, Riddick has a similar opening. We find the character left for dead on a hot, barren planet. The first fifteen minutes or so are simply him battling the slimy, clawed creatures who would love to eat him. Then the proper story kicks in. To get off the planet, Riddick turns on an emergency beacon, knowing it will bring in teams of mercenaries who want to capture/kill him and collect the bounty. Sure enough, two teams of them arrive, one containing a man with a surprise connection to him. Riddick wants to commandeer one of their ships. He also wants the lone female, Dahl (Katee Sackhoff). Riddick steals the nodes that will allow the spacecrafts to take off, then begins negotiating a complicated, potentially dangerous truce with his would-be captors. And then the creatures come back into play.

Riddick surprised me with how much fun it is. After the dour second installment, I didn't think there was much of interest left to do with this guy. Director/co-writer David Twohy mixes comedy (often of the dark variety) with ingeniously devised action sequences to create something new while simultaneously maintaining a comforting sense of familiarity. Riddick himself hasn't changed; he's as badass as ever. The clever and humorous ways he outsmarts his adversaries is a welcome addition, though. He uses his brains every bit as much as his brawn. One of the tensest sequences finds a mercenary unlocking a vault that Riddick may or may not have booby-trapped. Twohy expertly builds the tension, lets some steam out with a joke, builds the tension again, lets it out again, then delivers the payoff. Riddick's bloody, ironic final encounter with that same guy is especially memorable for the way it makes you squirm at what happens while laughing at the way it happens. Everything is just a little over-the-top, in a manner that's entertaining without inducing the desire to roll one's eyes.

The movie also has pleasing, stylized visuals that mix practical sets with CGI environments. It looks kind of real, kind of unreal. In other words, perfect for an atmospheric sci-fi thriller. All the creatures are menacingly designed as well, and Riddick gets to dispatch of them in gory ways. Twohy makes certain to inject some originality into his handling of these moments. Riddick doesn't just grab a gun and start blasting. He (again) uses his wiles to defeat beasts larger than himself. There's always some little twist to how he does it. Movies of this genre typically, to some extent, thrive on their “kills,” which provide a visceral thrill for the audience. Riddick finds our (anti-)hero delivering some amazing, clap-your-hands-in-gruesome-delight kills.

Where the film stumbles a bit is in the development of its supporting characters, who, Dahl aside, are nowhere near as interesting as Riddick. The plot is also a little thin to sustain a two-hour running time. Twenty minutes could easily have been excised to tighten the pace. But – and this is a big “but” - Riddick delivers the bottom-line stuff viewers want from this series. Diesel is as charismatic as ever, the action is exciting and nasty, and the wicked humor helps create a vibe of tongue-in-cheek fun. I enjoyed Riddick quite a bit, and after that first disastrous sequel, I really didn't see that coming.

( out of four)

Riddick is rated R for strong violence, language and some sexual content/nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 59 minutes.

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