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The Chronicles of Riddick ***
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Riddick:  Vin Diesel
Kyra:  Alexa Davalos
Lord Marshal:  Colm Feore
Written and Directed by David Twohy



Prerequisite to fully enjoying The Chronicles of Riddick: watch Pitch Black.


Vin Diesel, what in the world happened to you?  First, you were a unique acting talent with the gravely bass you still employ presently in films like Boiler Room and Saving Private Ryan.  Then you were an engaging action star in, well, only Pitch Black.  Finally, your ego burst onto the scene after your clunky work in The Fast and the Furious made you an A-list action star.  You made XXX, A Man Apart (okay movie), and Knockaround Guys (good for one viewing).  Your star is falling fast.  Now no one knows what youll do next.  Some have stopped caring. 

When I heard that Diesel was reprising his nocturnal savvy convict character of Riddick from Pitch Black, I rejoiced.  Then again, that seems like forever ago.  It was immediately following the success of The Fast and the Furious that the film was greenlit by studio executives with dollar signs in their eyes.  With the symbols clouding their vision, they couldnt understand that the flops flopping one after another (Knockaround Guys, A Man Apart) meant the 100 million plus dollars they were throwing into the project might not find its way back to them.

            The Chronicles of Riddick went through numerous writers and plot changes before David Twohy, who wrote and directed the first film and had signed on to direct the sequel, took over screenwriting duties as well.  Well, I liked, maybe loved Pitch Black and certainly loved the great character of Riddick, so I was excited that the one-man creative team behind the genesis of the first film was taking on responsibilities on the second.  But that doesnt mean the same level of quality could be reached.  It wasnt.

            All this opening ranting makes it seem like I didnt like Riddick, but I did.  I liked it very much.  Its the most fun Ive had at the theater since The Matrix: Reloaded last summer.  But its no Pitch Black.

            The Chronicles of Riddick catches up with the main character several years after escaping the alien infested planet of the first film.  He was an escaped convict at the end of that film and the new one opens with him being chased by bounty hunters that are after a large reward put out by an anonymous donor.  Riddick finds his old friend Iman (Keith David), a fellow survivor of the first film put the bounty on his head.  Seems a race of aliens (?) called elementals headed by Dame Judi Dench considers him the one man capable of saving the entire universe from a race of supersoldiers called Necromancers headed by the nefarious Lord Marshal (Colm Feore, Paycheck).  Huh?

            The films plot is presented in a confusing way, but is actually quite easy to understand.  Imagine Nazis with spaceships and unimportant mind processes and you have the Necromancers.  They want it all, the whole universe.  If you survive the onslaught, you can live, but you must become one of them and embrace their religion while denouncing your own.  That sucks, so the elementals are relying on an age old belief that the only race within the entire universe that can stop Lord Marshal are the only ones that really put a fight before, the Furians.  And, lo and behold, Riddick is considered to be the last of the race.  That wasnt so hard.

            The exposition stage of the film is as clunky as other Diesel flops.  The action pieces are uninspired and shot with a strobe light-level attention span.   It is only when Riddick learns that the spunky girl (now played by Alexa Davalos) that escaped with him and Iman in Pitch Black had set off to find him and eventually ended up in a planetary prison called Creamatoria (its really, really hotget it?).  He sets off on his own to find her, trying to put the madness happening around him in the dark recesses of his mind.  Thats when the action starts thrilling and the story starts mattering.  From that point on, I was hooked.  I loved the movie after that point.  Too bad the movie up to that point was entirely disappointing.

            Diesel has long ago proven that hes an action star that can act, but his fame came with short, monosyllabic, gravel toned catch phrases and growls.  Probably the best he has ever been charisma balanced with cool was in Pitch Black.  He isnt as layered or subtle in The Chronicles of Riddick, but he still shows grand flashes of the charisma and cool from the films predecessor. 

Pitch Black was about an entire ensemble stuck on a dark planet with savage aliens killing them off one by one.  He was a focus, sure; but he wasnt the focus.  Riddick is his movie and his movie alone.  Im not saying the character doesnt deserve his own film, but the equally important supporting characters did not receive the same attention as the lead.  The first movie had excellent actors Cole Hauser and Rhada Mitchell giving very good performances.  The closest thing we get to that quality in The Chronicles of Riddick is Alexa Davalos, who isnt nearly as good of an actress as Mitchell, but has enough spark to start a forest fire. 

Thandie Newton as the wife of a Necromancer officer (Karl Urban of The Lord of the Rings franchise) is camp to the extreme.  She overplays even the simplest of emotions and lines.

Urban is a wooden plank, never expressing anything more complicated than intense eyes.  In spite of his boring performance, he plays a major part in the action and is thrown into the mix every then minutes or so.

The most acclaimed thespian in the film, Dench, is an afterthought.  Shes in the film, but shes not important in it.  The performance is nothing special. 

What saves the film is its main character and non-stop action that thrills and excites even in the face of heavy flaws and disappointment.  Wow the audience and youve won.  At least thats the case in The Chronicles of Riddick.



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