FRESH POUR: Riddick (2013)

Clint takes a look at one or two new releases that come out each week –just a short look at what’s being released in theaters, along with some drinking rules for your own perusal.

Riddick / dir. David Twohy / Universal Pictures

RiddickThe Riddick series is a strange animal. Starting out in 2000 with the Alien-inspired creature feature Pitch Black (in which Riddick is merely introduced, not the star player), then following up with 2003’s The Chronicles of Riddick, director David Twohy has constructed one of the most whackadoo, chaotic Warhammer 40k-ish universes I’ve ever seen. Combining grungy, Heavy Metal aesthetics with modular spaceships and Necromongers who dress like H.R. Giger’s wet dreams, it gets tough sometimes to figure out just how Riddick fits into his own universe. With 2013’s Riddick, some artistic steps backward are definitely taken; the film seems a deliberate departure from the grandiosity they attempted in Chronicles, seeing sci-fi’s favorite growly, shiny-eyed convict Riddick (Vin Diesel, relishing his role) marooned on a dangerous planet by the Necromongers, who decide they’re sick of his shit before the movie even starts.

The film’s first act is actually quite fun; the whole film has a big-budget SyFy Channel Original Movie feel to it (a consequence of its slim budget), so be prepared for that. That being said, watching Riddick lick his wounds, work his way back up to fighting strength, and learn how to fight/befriend the indigenous animal life all on his lonesome makes the first half hour feel like Space Walden, in the best way. This man-against-the-wilderness segment allows us to get reacquainted with the character after a decade of absence, and you can tell Diesel is having the time of his life playing Space Survivalist (Diesel is a self-professed D&D nerd, and Riddick feels like his favorite character).

However, it’s when other humans start to show up in the film that it gets a bit sloppy. Two competing teams of mercenaries – one led by the villainous Jordi Molla, the other by the father of the merc who chased Riddick in Pitch Black (played by Matt Nable, who looks like Diet James Purefoy) – are summoned to track down the guy, leading to a basic retread of Pitch Black. The poorly-drawn mercenaries all alternate between macho posturing, sexual harassment and scrambling around in fear looking for Riddick in their first appearances, none of them really advancing beyond the level of cannon fodder. The rest all plays out like you expect: they find and capture Riddick, then they need his help to escape the planet once weather-based beasties show up. This time, instead of the light-phobic crab creatures, we get bipedal mud scorpions who only walk around where there is water (making the huge thunderstorm that arrives in the film’s final act the equivalent of Pitch Black’s ominous eclipse scene). It’s all fairly exciting in a surface way, but there’s not enough to fully satisfy here.

The supporting characters, as previously mentioned, are your stock 90s B-movie mercenaries – all tough talk and big weapons, with little to differentiate each other. The main characters showcased are King Johns (Nable), who is the closest thing to a real protagonist in the film besides Riddick; his underwritten journey to “get a spine” unlike his son is a little limp. Dave Bautista is an interesting physical presence, but he’s utterly wasted; one wonders how he’ll do in the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy film. The real shame here is Katee Sackhoff’s Dahl (pronounced “Doll” in an ode to the sexism of the characters); what feels on the surface to be a strong, authoritative female character just ends up being a more regressive version of her Battlestar Galactica character Starbuck. Much mention is made of her sexual proclivities – she’s a lesbian – though it is heavily implied at the end she switches teams for Riddick. It’s kind of a disgusting message (playing on the idea that all lesbians really need is a good deep dicking), but thankfully it is left merely as a heavy implication. Granted, the world of Riddick is regressive, and one has to recognize that when watching the film (there’s a medievalism here that lends itself well to the Edgar Rice Burroughs/70s-pulp influences of the series), but it’s still kind of gross to see that in a 21st century film.

All in all, I can say I enjoyed Riddick; I’ve been a modest fan of the movies since Pitch Black, so I will admit some bias in that regard. It is absolutely nothing special, but its ambitions are modestly adolescent and Vin Diesel is having fun. The CG is not great, but good enough to sell its intentions, and it feels like the kind of thing you’ll find on SyFy on a Saturday afternoon and stick around to watch because you’ve got nothing better to do. To be honest, that’s about as much quality as one can ask from the Riddick series. It’s basically unapologetic, adolescent male id candy, and in that respect it succeeds.

Clint’s Verdict: Worth a Watch

Drinking Rules for Riddick:
1) Drink every time Riddick’s (Vin Diesel) eyes shine
2) Drink whenever Dahl (Katee Sackhoff) talks about sex
3) Drink any time someone picks up or drops a weapon
Finish Your Drink When:
Dahl says, “I’ve got something to ask you, real sweet-like…”

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About Clint Worthington

Clint Worthington is a Chicago-based film/TV critic and podcaster. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, you can find his other film work at Consequence of Sound (where he is a Senior Staff Writer), Crooked Marquee, IndieWire and UPROXX. He is also the co-host of Nathan Rabin's Happy Cast.

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