The Chronicles of Riddick
review by Gregory Avery, 11 June 2004

In The Chronicles of Riddick, Vin Diesel, hell-bent on mythologizing himself, stands in the middle of it all, trying very hard to look terribly important. He's reprising his character from the 2000 film Pitch Black, and he was much better in more quieter, less over-inflated surroundings. Riddick is notorious, everyone is after him, yet he doesn't appear to have done anything of particular note -- he's famous without having to have done anything. Riddick can see in the dark, and if the contact lenses that give his eyes a metallic sheen are anything like the ones Alec Baldwin had to wear in The Shadow, Diesel would not have been able to see a thing on the set.

The movie itself starts out in a highly unappealing way. Invading spacecraft descend from the skies upon a peaceful, prosperous planet and start blowing everything and everyone to bits for reasons that are never entirely explained. Riddick, it turns out, is the one, the only one, who can route these interlopers, for reasons that are also never entirely explained. The merciless invaders, who favor grays and blacks, are Fascists and ride around in attack craft that look like giant office staplers.

The only thing that keeps the movie from becoming totally loathsome is that, on a narrative level, it's blitheringly nuts. Characters, wearing elaborate but ridiculous costumes, strut around on sets that look like they were copied from David Lynch's film Dune, delivering long, ropey strings of dialogue that sound idiotic and which we can understand only half of the time. This certainly undoes some of the performers -- Colm Feore, who used to appear in good movies, cheaply smirks his way through the role of an evil overlord, Thandie Newton plays a sub-Lady Macbeth who burns eyeliner in around her eyes, an unrecognizable Linus Roache plays a character who...

Anyway, elsewhere the movie can't decide what it's supposed to be at times -- first it's an apocalyptic drama, then it goes gallivanting off to more dank, dismal environs on a penitentiary planet, then there's an (implausible) escape and a gallop back to where things started and a conclusion that renders Riddick as a sort of "Conan"-like scoundrel-turned-king (and a few other things that I will not reveal here, you'll have to see it for yourself). The action sequences go off like flashbulbs in your face, and are staged so close to the camera that you can't follow what's going on.

Which leaves us with Judi Dench, who flits through the movie -- literally (she's semi-transparent, and floats) -- as an "Elemental" who's sort of a home team rooter for Riddick. Dame Judi seems a little surprised and intrigued over being asked to appear in this enterprise, but she doesn't loaf her way through the role -- she does a perfectly fine job, giving the picture its one, and only, aspect of prestige. The only thing is, you have to sit through the rest of the picture in order to see all of her performance, and that's not easy.

Directed by:
David Twohy

Starring:
Vin Diesel
Colm Feore
Thandie Newton
Judi Dench
Karl Urban
Alexa Davalos
Linus Roache
Yorick van Wageningen
Nick Chinlund
Keith David
Mark Gibbon
Roger R. Cross
Terry Chen
Christina Cox

Written by:
Jim Wheat
Ken Wheat
David Twohy

Rated:
PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned.
Some material may
be inappropriate for
children under 13.

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