Riddick makes me miss drive in theaters and B-movie circuits. This isn’t a film that’s meant to be seen alongside ‘real’ movies; it’s an exuberant bit of silliness that reminds me of the dopey science fiction movies the Italians were making in the 80s, where sense was minimal, characters were defined by how awesome they looked and as long as it was cool they shoe-horned it into the movie. Riddick is the sort of true B-movie that ends up looking crummy because our A-movie landscape is full of films using B-movie conventions; when we see the real thing it feels like a rip-off. But it’s not.
The film wisely writes Riddick out of his King of the Necromongers role, as last seen in the truly atrocious Chronicles of Riddick (a C-movie trying to be one of the A-movies riffing on B-movies). This time we’re back to basics - Riddick is a badass on an alien planet, and first he must survive the hostile world itself and then he must do battle with two crews of bounty hunters looking to collect the price on his head. Literally, as one guy has brought a box into which Riddick’s severed head will be placed.
The first third of the movie is like Vin Diesel’s take on the opening of There Will Be Blood; except for some opening voice over (and a flashback to how he got kicked out of the Necromongers, which plays like a hastily written excuse, which I’m sure it is) it’s all silent as Riddick, stranded on an ugly orange planet, battles the elements and an escalating sequence of monsters. It’s actually great - no irony, no joke great - and director David Twohy shines in this bit, using clean, economical action storytelling. And just in case this sequence wasn’t great enough, Riddick ends up with an alien puppy that he both trains up and injects with poison to make it immune to the dickmonsters that roam the planet’s surface.
But the idyllic first act must end; Riddick realizes that the planet is deadlier than he imagined and has to get off of it, so he triggers an emergency beacon he knows will call bounty hunters to his location. Sure, they all want him dead, but he knows he can handle them - and they’re not as scary as what the planet has to offer.
This is where Riddick takes a grinding left turn into something still pretty okay but unable to maintain the beauty of the first act. Two squabbling crews of mercs show up and hog the screen while Riddick just disappears. For a movie called Riddick there is a remarkable lack of Riddick in act two; whether that’s Vin Diesel being magnanimous to his co-stars or having to shoot the Fast and Furious movies that funded this indie film, I can’t tell. It almost works; Twohy’s script is like a bargain-basement Aliens, with each of the mercs getting just enough personality that I could tell them apart when Riddick starts picking them off one by one. For a little while it turns into a Friday the 13th movie, with Riddick as Jason, before turning into Pitch Black in the last act, with Riddick joining up with the mercs to battle the waves of monsters that made him want to get offworld in the first place.
There’s a lot of action in Riddick, some of it very good. There are a couple of awesome kills, and one kill that has been given away in all the trailers (Riddick kicking the machete) is about twenty times better in the actual movie. Twohy wisely makes the two merc crews very different; one is a bunch of scumbag rapists while the other is a clean-cut military unit that is after Riddick for personal reasons. You can enjoy the asshole bravado of one team while rooting for the other team (despite also rooting for Riddick) and everybody gets to deliver undercooked tough guy one liners to each other. The toughest of the tough guys is a woman, played by Battlestar Galactica’s Katee Sackhoff. Her name is actually Dahl so the other characters can keep calling her Doll. She’s also a lesbian.
Her lesbianism is key to this movie’s bizarre sexuality. It’s important to remember how much the Riddick character is an extension of Vin Diesel’s personality; while Twohy wrote the movie it’s clear that Vin has a lot of ideas about what would be cool or what he wants Riddick to do from scene to scene. So when there’s a flashback to the Necromonger days and Riddick sits on his throne, drinking booze while four naked women cavort in his bed and ask him to come to it and his voice over is (I’m paraphrasing) “There were certain promises I couldn’t fulfill” you have to wonder what’s going on.
And when the aliens that are so dangerous turn out to be walking ball sacs with huge, prehensile cocks that attack you, and they come out of the ground when it rains, you have to wonder what’s going on. Especially when Riddick has to milk their ‘venom’ to make himself immune to it. He doesn’t really want the venom, he just has to take it for the mission.
Finally you have Dahl, who is an avowed lesbian, but who Riddick keeps coming on to in the creepiest, most inappropriate ways. You really have to wonder what's going on. This is a character who has every other angle figured out, down to the second, and he can’t tell that this butchest of all women is not interested in dickmonsters? Is this Riddick’s one blind spot? The guy who can call rain to the SECOND can’t tell when a woman is gay? Or is this just some Riddick bravado, macking on the girl he knows can’t turn him down in public because she also can’t take him on?
I don’t know. The sexual stuff in this movie is beyond bizarre, and I’d go so far as to say that the true romance of the piece is between Riddick and Johns, the leader of the ‘good’ mercs. At one point Johns has to ride ‘bitch’ (the movie’s word) on Riddick’s hover ‘hog’ (the movie’s word).
Riddick works. As a mid-range scifi action movie it’s fun enough, if it never quite reaches the potential of that first act. As a Riddick movie it successfully gets us past the shitty last film and makes me actually interested in seeing where Riddick goes next (Furya or the Underverse or some other off-brand scifi concept, I’d imagine). As a psychosexual examination of Vin Diesel's avatar, Richard B. Riddick, it should be taught in universities.
God I just realized his name is Dick. Dick B Ridic, more specifically.